Category Archives: Braden Molhoek

What has been Occupying my thoughts

I’ve been trying to find something to say regarding the Occupy movement but have struggled to find a voice to contribute to the discussion.  After seeing people’s responses to the Occupy Oakland General Strike yesterday, I decided I had a small contribution.  It is not substantial, or even original, but here it goes anyway.

I believe that we bring our previous preconceived notions about economics, politics, and protests to our analysis of the Occupy movement.  Surprise! This should be expected and some people may think it does not need to be stated, but take a moment and really think about it.

Without getting super technical, I’m going to throw out three concepts: biosemiotics, intergroup bias, and confirmation bias.

1.  biosemiotics: From the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies website, they define biosemiotics as “the study of representation, meaning, sense, and the biological significance of codes and sign processes, from genetic code sequences to intercellular signaling processes to animal display behavior to human semiotic artifacts such as language and abstract symbolic thought.” I’m not an expert by any means on biosemiotics, but I think it could bring something to the conversation, bear with me.

2. intergroup bias: From a review article in the Annual Review of Psychology, “Intergroup bias refers to the systematic tendency to evaluate one’s own membership group (the in-group) or its members more favorably than a nonmembership group (the out-group) or its members.  Bias can encompass behavior (discrimination), attitude (prejudice), and cognition (stereotyping) (Hewstone, Rubin, and Willis, 2002).”

3. confirmation bias:  From ScienceDaily, confirmation bias “is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.”

Now let me attempt to briefly put these topics into conversation with one another.  The ability to interpret signals and signs probably proved to be a very useful adaptation for organisms.  However, the interpretation can lead to a large amount of information that needs to be classified.  Knowing whether someone is a part of your “group” could have helped keep early hominids alive, but in today’s pluralistic and global society, group membership is different.  It should not be surprising though, that the space between identifying and identification with is not very far.  People who part of my “inner circle” are important to me and I want to see them flourish, so I will help them, or play down their mistakes, etc.   It is even possible to seek out information that holds these bonds together, especially if it becomes harder to identify who is in and out.

So now I will bring it back to the original topic of this post, the Occupy movement.  I know people who have participated in Occupy assemblies and protests.  I also know people who think it is a terrible idea and wish it would go away.  I know people who support certain aspects of the movement and some who think it will not result in any meaningful change.  When I see people I am close with discuss the events of the past weeks in status updates, tweets, conversations, and in the sharing of links, photographs, videos, and articles, I cannot help but think about other conversations we have had in the past.

Some explain away the vandalism and violence, some lift that up as an example of what is wrong with the movement.  The truth probably is somewhere in between.  Regardless of whether they have a job or not, regardless of one’s income, regardless of which political party you support, regardless of religion, race, gender, age, or even favorite sports teams, everyone is capable of looking past these affiliations and seeing others for who they are, people just like them, imperfect, trying to live their lives, taking care of the things and people they value.  I don’t care which side you are on, if you even have one.  1%, 99%, Democrat, Republican, Texan, Californian, we are all on a small planet, in a galaxy that is far, far away from a great deal of the universe.  We need to find ways to live together.

Braden’s Links

Human Genome in the News

Here’s an article about the former director of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins: Father of Genome Project proud of its effects


Interested in getting your genome sequenced? Here’s a piece about what you could potential expect to pay: The $1,000 Genome Debate is ‘Already … Irrelevant’


In case you want to know what your genome means, this might be helpful: Understanding genome tests: Which genes cause disease?

This article references a larger discussion about how much we actually can tell from genetic testing.  I like it because it is short and provides links to additional resources.


So far we’ve been talking about people choosing to seek this information out, but as the last article mentions, there is a report that suggests collecting genomic information from military personnel.  This link has some details, but it also gives you a link to the original report so you can read it for yourself.

Report urges Defense to collect genome data on all troops


No Easy Answers

I attended a concert a couple of weeks ago and a song I heard got me thinking.  It wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, but each time I heard it, it moved me more.  The composer, Austin Willacy[1], shared with the audience that he wrote the song for his aunt after her husband and daughter passed away in the same year.  Below you’ll find the words to the chorus of the song “Show Your Face.”

I want God to show his face
To everyone
I want to see to whom I pray
Just this once
I won’t ask it everyday
Let me see you
Or do you only hear me when
I’m on my knees

When confronted with the tough situations of those around us, it is natural to want to provide answers.  People ask where is God, why did this happen, how am I supposed to keep believing what I did before?  We want to be there, to give the perfect answer, assure them and sometimes ourselves as well.  My first piece of advice is to stop and think before speaking.

Thinking of these things on my own, in the abstract, I sometimes slip into “school mode.”  In other words, I try and use my academic training to address the problem.  However, discussing Max Weber’s understanding of the relationship between theodicy, universalization of religious systems, and rationalization, is worse than useless in a real life situation.  Likewise, reflecting on the nature of the universe and ethicists who argue that the world has to be this way in order for free will both in human action and belief to exist will probably do more harm than good.  There is a time and a place for those conversations, but I would argue that time is not the immediate.

My advisor and my uncle were both diagnosed with cancer around the same time in 2008, and they passed away within a month and a half of each other.  What helped me through that time were not the philosophical and theological postulates that I’ve heard, read, and developed, but spending time with those who shared their lives with my advisor and my uncle and people who cared about me as well.  It has been said to me that the first thing we have to do when discussing theodicy is that ultimately, every theodicy falls short.  The best thing to do in those situations is to be with the people who are hurting.  You don’t have to have the answers, or even any words.  Austin may have written “Show Your Face” for his aunt, but almost all of the verses contain the phrase “to anyone who’s lost ________.”  In my view he has taken up the voice of those who are hurting and lonely, and we should follow his example by reminding people they are not alone.


[1] Austin Willacy has seen this text and given permission for the posting of his lyrics and the personal narrative.