What’s important and why?

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why some things get more importance in our lives, and how we see the world. I can’t say that I’ve found a good answer, but pondering this issue has led me to see how disproportionate we often are in our responses to things.

Earlier this week, for example, there was a ton of news coverage of a new World Health Organization (WHO) report concluding that processed meat is a carcinogen and that eating a couple of pieces of bacon a day will increase rates of certain types of cancer by 18%. The Guardian ran a story with the headline, “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes – WHO,” and blogs like Medical Daily posted something called, “Red Meat Is Just As Likely To Give You Cancer As A Cigarette, The World Health Organization Says.

Let’s consider these headlines a bit more carefully.

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When does life begin?

The abortion issue is immensely complicated, and our position about it largely depends on how we answer several questions. One of those questions is, “when does life begin?” This sounds so simple to answer, but it couldn’t be more complicated. I’m a scientist, that’s what I do for a living. I have advanced training in these things, and I have no idea how to answer that question factually, and believe me I’ve tried. I’ve looked for evidence that I can use to help form my opinion about this part of the issue, and it’s one of the few areas where I honestly feel there is no scientific answer to the question. It’s simply not an empirical question.

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A generation of hate (but not how you think).

I believe that we may be experiencing one of the most hateful times in our human history. Seems like a bold statement, right? The huns were pretty mean, and (again honoring Godwin) Hitler was pretty evil too. The Visigoths and the Romans probably hated each other more than the Jets and the Sharks ever could. So my thesis is pretty easy to reject, except that I’m not talking about people being more hateful than ever, I’m talking about people feeling like they are hated more than ever.
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Gun control ain’t easy…

…In fact, it’s incredibly complicated, at least in the United States. Like it or not, wish it were true or not, we have a history of gun rights in the United States. The Second Amendment of the Constitution does not actually establish that right, but it makes its existence clear, and makes it unconstitutional to infringe that right. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

This is not unlike the way that other rights were described in the Constitution. The First Amendment, for example: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

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