October 28, 2010

A Tale of Two Funerals and an Skeptical Atheist

While, with my last post I briefly mentioned that there had been a couple deaths in my immediate family, I didn't really talk about them at all. I was saving it all for one post that will be a lot more intimate then my other posts (two parts). Now, while some of the specific memories have faded a few have stood out and those are the ones that I will talk about here.

In the past couple of weeks both my Grandpa's have passed away, and while they weren't in the most healthy of conditions, the sad fact remains that I will never get to see or enjoy being with them again, except in the memories that I can only roughly piece together. This is one time where I did wish the mind worked more like a video camera, because the assumptions my mind makes in the memories only takes me further away from them.

I guess a chronological order is the best way to deal with everything I'll have to say, but I'll have to provide a little context for everything to make sense. For anyone who reads my blog or noticed the big red A on the side bar they probably realized that I'm an atheist, but this post will leave no doubts of that. While, my personal atheism may have been slightly understated, my skepticism surrounding issues that have no evidence or where the evidence points agianst has been loud and upfront.

Thus I will begin with the death of Grandpa Charlie. Now the death itself, while a sad occasion and unfortunate circumstance, it was better then what he was enduring in his day to day life. So for that I reason I wasn't too saddened by the passing. My brother flew home, and my fathers brothers/sisters got together to make the necessary arrangements.

It was during this process that it was suggested that I could read a passage. I pretty sure could could guess the source of the passage, but I don't think they would have liked the verses that I would have picked out if they really forced me to read.

These are courtesy of Dumb Shit the Bible Says:

"So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son."
— 2 Kings 6:29

So why not boil Grandpa up and make some soup for the masses? or How about?

"From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. 'Go up, baldhead,' they shouted, 'go up, baldhead!'"

"The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the children to pieces."
— 2 Kings 2:23-24
Good thing my Grandpa had all his hair or the she-bears might have came to the funeral, but I could also go with the always classic. 

"And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished."

"Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money."
— Exodus 21:20-21

Not that I really would read those at a funeral, I wouldn't want to take the emphasis away from the person who is being remembered. That being said, I did flatly refused to read anything from the bible and didn't want to really participate in a religious ceremony, as I personally don't want to endorse or complicity endorse any religion as they cherish counter-intuitive beliefs that go agianst evidence and reason.

So I didn't have to read anything, and the wake went fine. Lots of hand shaking, while hearing how much I look like this uncle, that cousin, and even a few more distant relatives. Nothing really to eventful happened until the next day.

The day of the funeral came and I had mixed emotions, I knew that what was going to take place was something I didn't believe in. Not only that, I also knew there would also be lecturing and different varieties of thumping the bible, but I'd couldn't recall going to a funeral before so I wasn't exactly sure what was in store for me.

We gathered at 9 in the morning at the funeral home and shook a few more hands that weren't able to make it the day before. Then everyone who wasn't part of the very immediate family were ushered out and a older lady in a white robe came in. She made some small talk, then said a prayer and there was a moment of silence. During which everyone put there head down, bowed and closed their eyes. I bowed my head too, with the respect and appropriateness that the situation called for.

Family, by family we were ushered into the funeral home's chapel. My family was first, but there was just enough of us so that I could hide in anonymity in the corner of the next row. I sat there with the family of my dads brother and watched as the chapel slowly filled up.

Then it started. 45 minutes of singing, dancing and clapping for Jesus. I was called a sheep and told that Charlie would now be living with God. The lasting memories of the person's life took a backseat to the supposed spiritual journey that had been taking place. I could not sing Amazing Grace, because unlike the other wretched people I hadn't been lost, nor was I blind to what was going on.

My eyes were all to open. Instead of the sadness of the occasion, I felt the unease of being different than everyone else, and the bitterness of being preached at left a sour taste in my mouth for the remained of the day. I didn't say much as we drove to the graveyard, but I knew that, that would be the last funeral service of that kind I would be apart of. Where was the celebration of who the person was? What had they accomplished? All that took it's place was some lady talking who had no idea who he was, yet she was smiling the whole time. She could smile and tell me what happened after death, but so could my 5 year old cousin, and at least he would have had some insight from spending a Christmas with the man before.

I said little the whole day, and knew that I was the only one who had any of those kind of feelings. I couldn't stomach the sandwiches, crackers and desserts. The commonality that exists between families and the need to find out what someone else is doing because they are related to you never really appealed to me anyway, so for the most part I stood alone and thought. 

Yet, this was only be beginning....part two will tell the rest of my story.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

October 5, 2010

The Results of a Poll About Theft in the Workplace and Job Interviews

I'm back after a long break due to two deaths in my intimidate family. Those deaths could be foreseen in taking place, but even then it is hard to prepare for it actually happening. I have some experiences surrounding those events that I will talk about in my next post, but I first wanted to take down my poll and start a new one which I talked about before.

When I first started the poll I wasn't sure how many votes it would get, and my site traffic was a fair bit lower than it currently is. I was interested and did a blog post on how people would answer a specific job interview question that a couple of my friends ran into. It was the prefect opportunity for my first poll.

Before I talk about the results I'll give some background information from the American Society of Employers

1. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75% of all employees steal at least once, and that half of these steal again ...and again. The Chamber also reports that one of every three business failures are the direct result of employee theft."

2. "The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that $50 billion dollars are lost annually due to employee theft and fraud. Also reported by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce - 20% of all businesses fail due to internal theft and fraud."

3. "In employee surveys conducted by academics and other specialists, as many as 43% of workers interviewed admitted stealing from their employers."

With that 75% number in mind as a rough estimate let's break down the 143 votes. The assuredly skewed results of the poll were that 34 % of people have never stolen anything and would say that at  a job interview while 32% would have stolen from their workplace in the past and admitted in doing so. Leaving 4 % to not have stolen, yet state that they had and 28% to have stolen in the past and lie about doing so. I'll look at each of these answers and expand on them with some reasoning about the result.

So if asked in the situation of a job interview if you had stolen from a previous employer, 50 people (34% of voters) would never have stolen anything from the workplace and would tell their prospective employer that they hadn't stolen anything. Now I know a follow-up poll should be, "If asked on a blog poll about stealing from the workplace would you lie about it?", because whenever asking questions about morality or moral situations I don't think everyone is completely honest and I don't blame anyone for their lack of honesty. If you start admitting to random polls that you have stolen, then you might be inclined to embrace it and admit in less anonymous ways that you have stolen.

This 'I don't want to admit anything that may make people think different of me mentality' can be best seen in the sexual polls about homosexual experiences. An interview with Gary Gates of The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy flushes this idea out when he is asked about the amount of gay people within the total population. He can't answer with great certainty because the answer rests somewhat on how the question is asked.

When people are asked directly in a poll if they are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual the results show a much lower total than if the survey asked if the person has had attractions to people of the same sex, or has had sexual encounters with people of the same sex. So people can be attracted to members of the same sex or have same sex relations and not identify themselves as Bisexual, Gay or Lesbian.

This finding isn't an exception, it's the norm. The most recent in-depth study that will be in the Journal of Sexual Medicine notes the anomaly that, "While about 7 percent of adult women and 8 percent of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the proportion of individuals who have had same-gender sex at some point in their lives is higher. For example, 15 percent of the men aged 50-59 said they had received oral sex from another man at some point."

Those results have a history that can be traced back to the studies of Alfred Kinsley his reports in Sexuality and the Human Male and Sexuality and the Human Female. The problem made Kinsley want to create a scale that ranged from completely homosexual to completely heterosexual instead of having that gap of people who engage in homosexual acts, but don't consider themselves bisexual or homosexual. 

In the same way that people can have sexual relations with a member of the same sex on a semi-regular basis and not identify themselves as Bi-sexual, I think people can have taken items from a workplace and not consider it stealing. With a sample size of just myself I can say that most of the people I have worked with at some point have taken something from the workplace and believe the actual number of people who have never taken anything from the workplace to be lower than the reported 34% of the poll, perhaps much lower.

National Retail Security Survey Report

The next most popular choice was having stolen from a previous workplace and admitting that they had stolen to the interviewer.  46 people for 32 % of the respondents would answer this way and would almost certainly, in my mind, pass up any chance of actually getting the job. These people would put honesty and integrity over the value of the job, but they would have been the same people willing to steal from the workplace...what a strange group of people. Apparently there are a lot of people who can say, 'I'm a thief, but I'm no liar!' I personally thought the number of people who would steal from a workplace and would be willing to admit it would be much lower. This remains an interesting surprise.

The only way I could account for this higher than anticipated percentage would be to posit that a persons belief in their own character isn't dependant on past actions. This speculation means that people view themselves as honest people and to avoid cognitive dissonance they answer a poll question in the most honest way they could, admitting their past actions, but keeping their view of themselves as currently an honest person intact.

Which brings up in third answer which I thought would be the most popular. 41 people or 28 % of respondents were people who had stolen something from the workplace in the past and would tell a job interviewer that they hadn't. These are the people who understand the context of the question, as Robert Mcnamara did in The Fog of War when he was asked about summer jobs. People who answered this way don't have the virtue of being able to answer the question the ideal way honestly, but they knew what the 'correct answer' was and gave it despite it not being an honest answer. I don't have much more to say about this group, except that they are obviously thinking about the implications of the question and responding to the pressures of those implications.

This brings up the last group, who would never have stolen anything from the workplace, but, like my friend, would have said that they had stolen in the past. 6 people for 4% would be in this extreme minority. They, like myself, would have witnessed almost everyone they know taking something from work in the past, and then thought that it didn't seem reasonable or likely that they hadn't taken something either. Worried about looking like a lair, they lie! They say they had stolen when they hadn't.

These people understand the context, the overall goal to get the job, but they misidentify what the 'correct' answer is. They identify themselves as people who have never stolen from work (which as the sexual studies show may or may not be the case), but are willing to lie to get a job.

In total only 32% of people would lie about what they had done leaving the overwhelming majority to either not have to lie, to have lied in answering this poll or to be honest about their past. These results show the value of asking this type of moral question in a job interview, as it will inform you of what many people have stolen in the past and could eliminate as much as 36% of people right off the bat, if you were adverse to hiring anyone that would admit to having stolen something in the past.

The poll also shows an employee theft rate of 60%, 15% lower than the estimate of the U.S Chamber of Commerce, which would also be in line with the understanding of a person can steal, but not have considered themselves to have stolen.

While eliminating potential employees in such a manner would then leave you with liars or people who hadn't stolen, it would still be an effective question, much more effective and revealing then I originally thought.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic