Category Archives: Philosophy

Religious Altruism Isn’t Altruism

altruismAltruism is defined as “the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.”  Essentially, this means doing for others without  getting anything in return for yourself.  I bring this up because I saw someone claim on Twitter that atheists were incapable of being altruistic, presumably that only theists, and arguably in this case Christians could be and that made them superior.

I’d argue that altruism, as a concept, is something that is inherently beyond virtually all humans, especially the religious.  I don’t think there’s anything that you can do for others that you get absolutely nothing out of for yourself.  One of the biggest motivators for humanity is our ego. We want to feel good about what we do.  Doing things for others strokes our ego, it makes us feel better about ourselves because we are performing social actions that aid other people and this is seen as a positive in most cultures.  Right there, I think altruism goes out the window because we are directly benefiting from our charitable behavior and the more extreme our behavior happens to be, the more those around us tend to think better of us, increasing our social stature.  That’s not a zero-sum game and most people do not act entirely in secret, they let people know what they’re doing.  Stroke that ego!

But when it comes to religion, they go one step further!  They’re really showing off to their imaginary friend in the sky.  Now sure, they’ll try to couch it in selfless terms, but the reality is, they’re just going “Hey God!  Look at me!”  I did it when I was a Christian, so did everyone else who is willing to be honest.  Therefore, not one religious person of any stripe is actually being altruistic when they’re kind to the needy, they’re trying to earn their way closer to God.

Anthropologists Adrian Jaeggi and Michael Gurven, writing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal, has shown that true altruism simply doesn’t exist in humans or apes.  No matter what is done, the person doing good works wants something in return.  Both humans and apes are very good at keeping track of who owes them what and even when a relatively altruistic act is performed, where the helped individual is not expected to directly compensate the helper, the expectation that someone will pay them back for their act of kindness, even in a karmic fashion, is commonplace.  When you throw enlightened self-interest into the mix, it becomes even more clear.  People who perform kind acts for others hope that, should they find themselves in the same downtrodden situation, that someone will come along and reciprocate those kind acts for them.  That’s not altruism, it’s paying it forward.

I’d really argue that when religious help the poor, when they volunteer in a soup kitchen, when they give money to their churches for charitable works, they are being even less altruistic than when an atheist does it.  After all, an atheist or other secular person is doing it for help in the only world we actually have any evidence for.  At least when we help people, we’re acknowledging that we’re in this life together and have to help each other through.  It might not be altruistic but at least it’s realistic.  The religious can’t even say that.  They treat this life like an unimportant staging area for the next life.  Whether people live or die here really doesn’t matter, what’s important is the afterlife.  Any help that they provide to others here is just a feather in their God-cap and they’re hoping God is keeping track of how many unimportant but kind things you do here while you’re waiting to kick the bucket.  That’s not only not caring, it’s terribly shallow.

We’re all playing this game together, we might as well try to help each other along as best we can.  It’s not altruistic but it is the best sum option that we have.  If I can help you and you can help me and we can all help each other, why not?  If it makes you feel a little better inside because you paused for a minute or two and helped someone else out, where’s the harm in that?  Just don’t pretend that it makes you a better person and for you religious folks who think that you’re showing off for God to get some brownie points, you’re not.  In fact, you’re just showing how you don’t even understand the rules of the game.

Emotion Gets in the Way of Reality

reality-check

This is something that I’ve mentioned quite a few times in the past but don’t think I’ve ever  gone into a lot of detail.  I’ve been working on a new book where I spend quite a bit of time on this quite simple concept and therefore thought I ought to at least bring it up on the blog.

The unfortunate “reality”, for lack of a better word, is that far too many people employ their emotions in places where they simply should not.  They’re more concerned with what they wish was true and not so much with what is actually true if that factual reality makes them sad.

This isn’t limited to theists by any means.  In fact, the whole of the execrable Atheism+ “movement” is essentially a prime example of this kind of irrationality.  Religion is yet another, where people allow their wishful thinking to lead to them to conclusions about the real world instead of allowing the real world to lead them to factual reality.

You don’t see scientists becoming strongly emotionally attached to a pet hypothesis and only looking for evidence to support their hypothesis.  If they did, they’d get thrown out of the  scientific establishment.  This is the way that pseudo-science operates, not rational thinking.  For that, one must be willing to set aside their emotional wishes and desires and actually care about objective fact.

That doesn’t mean that you should purge yourself of all emotion and walk around like a robot.  Emotion is still important, but it has particular uses, just as reason and rationality do.  You can’t just use emotion for everything, especially where it isn’t applicable, any more than you can use cold logic for everything.  It is important to know where these idea actually work well and where they do not.  Unfortunately, far too many people either don’t understand where those lines are drawn or they just don’t care, probably a mixture of both.

I do get a lot of complaints when I bring this up though, people get defensive, they say that they should be able to think any way they want and I can’t stop them.  That much is true.  That doesn’t change the fact that they’re doing it wrong.  I’m convinced that there is absolutely no point in human life today where pure emotionalism is the best way, or even an acceptable way, to live one’s life, or to attack any single problem or question.  It may help but without reason, the individual is doomed to failure.

Any question?  How about what person you ought to marry.  Surely that’s a completely emotional question, but no, it cannot be.  While certainly, the person that you happen to love may be an entirely emotional matter, deciding if they are the correct one to spend your life with is anything but.  It requires one to measure how much you have in common, whether you have enough similar interests, whether you really get along and can maintain a relationship in the long term.  It requires that you make some decisions, based on actual evidence, and be willing to go with the best alternative.  Love, no matter what sappy songs might say, is not enough to keep you together and those who rely only on emotion to make these important decisions have a much higher rate of divorce and marital problems than those who go into it with their rational faculties in full operation.

This is, of course, true of religion as well.  Those who only want to feel good about their beliefs do not end up with very rational beliefs.  I cannot remember the last time that I had a theological debate and the theist was able to articulate intelligent, evidence-based reasons that they believed.  This is why most debates are fundamentally pointless because the believer neither knows, nor cares, why they believe the way they do, they simply seek out the most emotionally satisfying belief they can and embrace it wholeheartedly.  This  doesn’t get them one step closer to factual reality or a reasonable belief, it’s pure and total emotional bunk and they apparently can’t tell the difference.

We’ve evolved these big brains, capable of reason and logic and critical thinking, for a reason, they’ve made us more fit to become the masters of our environment and our world, but they do no good if people refuse to use them.  There should never be a time when a rational individual throws up their intellectual hands and just acts on emotion.  Every action should be reasoned out.  Every position should be tested critically.  It shouldn’t matter what your emotional instincts call for you to do if that action cannot also be logically justified.  When emotion and reason come to  blows, reason usually ought to win. If humanity could do that, imagine how many problems we could solve.  Isn’t that what we really should be doing?  Certainly that’s my goal for our species, why isn’t it yours?

My Views on Transsexuals

transgenderGrimachu, over at The Atheist Fist wrote an apology over a debate he had a while back from a transsexual that ended badly, mostly because he describes the actions of the transsexual as assholish. While I can’t speak to that debate, I can say that I’m sure the LGBTQABCDEFG community would probably hate my take on the whole thing, which is fine because I have even less respect for the “social justice” morons than Grimachu does.

Now I am entirely fine and completely supportive of the idea that people may have one physical and genetic sex and one mental gender identity. We really don’t know enough about the inner workings of the brain to say that one may be genetically one  gender and mentally predisposed to be another gender.  Again, if this is how you feel, if you think you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body or a man trapped in a woman’s body, I am wholly supportive of you correcting this genetic oversight.

See, I have a good friend who is a transsexual.  He spent his early life really, really pissed off at gays, mostly because his parents were hard-core fundamentalists who pounded it into his head.  However, he was part of my gaming group and he only played female characters.  It was his only escape from the repressive thumb that his parents pushed on him.  After many years of being “in the closet” about his feelings and especially after he was out in the world on his own, he finally decided that he’d be honest about his feelings that he was actually a woman and I am completely behind him on his decision, he’s a much happier person since his transformation.  However, while he’s had the hormone treatments, he hasn’t had any actual gender reassignment surgery.  Until he does, I’m going to think of him as a “he”.  Not to his face, of course, I respect his desires and I want to encourage him to make the actual transition, but growing breasts and putting on women’s clothing and changing your name does not make you a woman, even though he makes a much better looking woman than he ever did a man, to be honest.

tiger-man
This is not a tiger, this is a loser.

A lot of this really reminds me as my association with the furries.  There were a lot of people who really believed that they were animals who were mistakenly born as humans.  Nobody in their right mind is going to take these people seriously.  I don’t care what you do to yourself, what costumes you dress up in, you are not a mighty stallion born into the lowly body of a human.  There has to be a limit to how far we go on these things.  Would we, for example, take someone seriously who said they were certain that they were a black man born into a white man’s body?  How about someone who was convinced they were a tall woman stuck in a short woman’s body?  Or a blonde who was mistakenly given brown hair by an error of genetics?  Where does one draw the line? There has to be a line somewhere, how do we decide what is acceptable and what is not?

Certainly, the mistaken brunette can dye their hair and life life as a blonde without too much difficulty.  The rest is a little more difficult to achieve without significant surgery, but while conceptually, these ideas might strike us as silly, would we really take them seriously if they didn’t go all the way?

Therefore, to take a couple of things from Grimachu’s article, I think the following:

  • I also think that prospective partners should know that you started life as a different gender, in fact, I would argue that you are legally obligated to tell a prospective spouse before your marriage or be guilty of fraud.
  • I really have no strong feelings about sports one way or the other, since I think professional sports are a complete and total waste of time, but in the interest of fairness, transgender women probably ought to be restricted from playing women’s professional sports.  It might not be fair, but whoever said life was fair?
  • I really don’t buy that transgendered people should be able to use the bathroom of their expressed gender until they have been actually surgically altered.  What’s to stop a pervert from putting on a dress and going into the women’s bathroom under the guise of transsexuality?  If you’ve got a dick, use the men’s room until you have it replaced with the plumbing of your choice.
  • While I personally pay little attention to the media freak-show circuit, the fact remains that the people who end up there sign on for it themselves.  I had no sympathy for people who agreed to go on the Jerry Springer Show either.  If you don’t want to be treated like a freak, don’t agree to be interviewed by the media.  It’s that simple.
  • While I’m okay with the idea that a person’s gender identity may differ from their biological sexual identity, I also think that there’s a lot of emphasis in the social justice crowd for people to declare that they are different from white, male, cisgendered whatever.  I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of legitimate cases of people who are really convinced that they are the wrong gender, but by the same token, I think the social justice idiots have really pushed people who may have some doubts or questions to be something they may not actually be.  It’s the same as them pushing a boy who put on a dress once and liked it to admit that he’s a full-blown homosexual.  That ain’t necessarily true.

I would love it if people could just be who they wanted to be without being pushed by one special interest group or another to do things they may not want to.  I remember a debate on a forum many, many years ago with a woman who was absolutely convinced that everyone, without exception, was a bisexual and anyone who disagreed was risking her wrath.  It was her hot  button issue, you couldn’t mention sexual orientation in any post, no matter how obliquely, without her sticking her nose into the conversation and telling everyone that they were wrong and she was right.  That’s really the vibe that I get from a lot of the social justice jerks, it’s their way or the highway.

Maybe they should just stand out in the middle of the highway and get taken out by a truck.  Nobody would miss them.  Then maybe people could just be people and the world would be a better place.

 

Irrational People are Everywhere

Wow, I guess you never realize just how bad things are until you try to fix them. I have a lot of drafts going on this blog all of the time and, at least in my mind, it doesn’t take too long to actually write the post.  However, I realized that I had more than 40 posts written and scheduled and nearly 50 drafts, I thought I ought to go back and clear out some of the chaff that either I had rolled into another post or I was never going to get to.  The first I looked at, the oldest by far, dated 03/2012 is this one and it was virtually complete.  So, hope this doesn’t seem too out of place when it finally goes up, sometime in February, 2014.

I’ve said many times before what’s fundamentally wrong with religious thinking and religious “logic”, but as I’ve gone on, I’ve noticed that it’s the same kind of irrationality across the line, no matter what group that you’re talking about.  To keep it manageable, I’m going to look at two groups that I have dealt with many times:  libertarians and theists.

It might not seem like it at first glance, but these people make similar types of claims.  Sure, the content is different, but they purport that a specific thing exists or has happened, done entirely without a shred of objective evidence.  In order, those claims can be summed up as the following:

  • Natural Rights exist.
  • God exists.

Neither of those statements have any support given, they are assumptions made, not because evidence has led them to believe they are true, but for purely emotional reasons.  The individuals *WANT* these things to be so.  They have not been convinced through rational means that they are, but through entirely emotional desire.

To a rational, skeptical person, clearly next we would ask them to support their claims with actual, objective, demonstrable evidence.  At the very least, we would expect them to produce a well-constructed, non-contradictory, rationally-valid argument from which we can proceed in debate.   It’s the only standard by which anyone ought to accept any position, no matter what that position might be.  Unfortunately, in both cases again, they react the same, producing something similar to the following:

  • Natural Rights exist, therefore…
  • God exists, therefore…

Note that neither of them actually went back and demonstrated their initial premise was true, they didn’t directly support it with evidence, they just continued to assume that it was true, then listed rationalizations based upon it’s assumption, which they then pretend support the original claim.  Nowhere have they even attempted to provide a shred of evidence because, at least judging from what’s been produced, none exists for either of those propositions.  No matter how hard you try, they cannot be convinced that their ideas are baseless because, as I said before, these are not ideas based on logic and reason, but on emotion.  The further you go, the more they pile rationalization and justification on top of the mix, but they never get back to their initial assumption. The problem is, a house of cards is still a house of cards and when the foundation is bad, no amount of building on that bad foundation can make a sound construct.

The similarities don’t end there, although it’s certainly easier to find in the first two cases.  Both of them use wild appeals to authority in their claims.

  • Locke and Hobbes say Natural Rights exist…
  • The Bible says God exists…

As I pointed out to one libertarian who insists natural rights are real, just finding someone else who writes the same unsupported claim as you do doesn’t make the claim any better supported.  No matter how much I ask “how do you know?” he just posts quotes from Locke and Hobbes and Rand, none of which actually address the question.  An appeal to authority doesn’t make the claim any more valid because that authority hasn’t done any more legwork than the libertarian or theist.

bigfootI was originally going to make this a much larger article, addressing the same similarities between Bigfoot believers and alien abduction asserters and the like, but it got too busy and would have lost focus.  I did want to touch on it briefly though, just because it shows the absurdity of the above tactic.

“Bigfoot is real!”

“How do you know?”

“Because this guy over here wrote a book and said so!”

“How did he know?”

“Because this other guy over there wrote a book and said so too!”

All the empty claims in the world won’t support an assertion, no matter how many people you can find that agree with a proposition, that doesn’t make it factually so.  It’s really sad to see so many people who fundamentally misunderstand the basis of logical arguments and rational claims.  Just flapping your lips doesn’t make it worthwhile, it’s evidence and logical argumentation that matters and they have none.

In all honesty, all of these positions break down to the same thing:

  • I want natural rights to exist, therefore I’m going to pretend they do.
  • I want God to exist, therefore I’m going to pretend he does.
  • I want Bigfoot to exist, therefore I’m going to pretend he does.

It’s an unfortunate reality that lots of people are more interested in beliefs that make them feel good, that fit within their particular worldview, that they really aren’t all that interested in whether or not their beliefs are actually so.  It’s not just limited to the religiously incredulous, political and social believers have the same issue and it is a problem for all of them.  We, as skeptics, need to push every group, whether religious or not, to address the shortcomings in their beliefs and to produce rational reasons to believe their positions are actually so.  To do otherwise is to risk believing in the irrational and that’s not something that a skeptic is supposed to do.

Death is the End, Deal With It!

dead-end-sign1On a recent Atheist Experience, an atheist called in and said that she was twisting quantum mechanics around as a way of coming to grips with the death with her mother.  Now I understand that some people have a really hard time letting go of deceased loved ones, but let’s be honest here.  From every shred of evidence we have, we understand that when your brain dies, everything that could be considered “you” is now gone.  “You” cease to exist.  “You” do not go to heaven, “you” do not go to the great beyond, “you” stop being anything meaningful, except in the memories of those who knew you.

From what I recall, this atheist started out as a theist and rejected Christianity because she was having trouble coping with the loss of her mother.  Then she became an atheist and was trying to argue quantum mechanics as some sort of apparatus which would allow her to believe that her mother’s “spirit”, for lack of a better word, was still floating around out there somewhere.

Somehow, I don’t think this individual has really gained anything by getting rid of religion, they’re seeking the same kind of irrational belief using a different system and that, as far as I’m concerned, is problematic.  I’m certainly sympathetic toward someone who has suffered a tragic loss and misses their relative but what I’m not sympathetic toward are people who just can’t make it through the day without some sort of absurd woo.  Dressing up quantum mechanics in supernatural clothes is woo, like it or not.

Unfortunately, there are doctors like Robert Lanza who put forward this quantum mechanics “life doesn’t really end” nonsense but it just isn’t justifiable.  You are a complex organism, your mind is a convoluted mix of electrochemical and biological parts, the specific arrangement of chemicals and neurons make up this thing called “you”.  If something dramatic changes, if the brain gets damaged, then “you” are no longer “you”, you are someone else.  We’ve known this for a long time, we’ve seen case studies where people’s entire pasts have been erased and they’ve developed as an entirely different person.  We know that there are split-brain patients who develop two completely different personalities, including people who have one side theist and the other side atheist.  The idea that disparate atoms that may or may not have some kind of “paired memory” actually represent some part of “you” is really absurd.  In the end, they’re just clutching at straws, trying to weave a web of ideas that might make the gullible happy, but doesn’t really solve anything.

Red_pill___Blue_pillPeople really need to get a grasp on reality.  Sure, it might not always be happy, sure you might not like what happens.  People die.  All people die.  Eventually, you will die.  So will your pets, your kids, everyone you ever know and love.  They’re all doomed.  Welcome to the real world.  Wishing you could take the blue pill instead of the red one doesn’t change anything.  But you know something?  Nobody ever promised the planet was going to be puppy dogs and unicorns.  We’re animals, just like every other species on the planet.  Every other species goes through the same general things we do.  They all get hungry, they all get sick, they all drop dead and so do we.  Of course, there’s plenty of good along the way too, we have good experiences, we form close relationships, we have children, we grow old together, those are the good parts of being alive.  That doesn’t change the bad things and the bad things don’t change the good things, we need to be intellectual, rational beings and be able to deal with both of them equally.  Pointing out this reality doesn’t change the reality any, nor does it make me a mean, awful person, it makes me a person with realistic expectations.

So please, if you’re an atheist, just deal with the world as it actually is instead of how you wish it was?  People die. You can, and should, miss them.  You can, and should, remember them.  What you ought not do is to pretend they’re not really gone, to think that they await you in some quantum mechanical wonderland somewhere or to pretend that a particle here or a particle there actually represents the sum total of your lost loved one.  That makes you no better than the theists who are convinced that the dead are either singing God’s praises in heaven or screaming in pain in hell.  It’s all bunk.  Let’s be realists.

More Objective Morality Stupidity

objective-morality

I know I bring this up time and time again but that’s because it comes up time and time again and, at least in my view, it just keeps getting more and more absurd.  On an episode of The Atheist Experience, I can’t say the most recent anymore because by the time this actually posts, it will be a distant memory, but people called in challenging Matt Dillahunty’s view of morality and, as shocking as it might be, I think the people who challenged him were a lot more correct than Matt is!  I’ve talked about it before, you can go read my fundamental disagreements of his position

The problem is, Matt is choosing a view to look at morality and then imposing it on everyone.  He is adopting a standard, in this case “suffering” and expecting that it is the only standard that anyone ought to deal with. Take his personal bugaboo, slavery, for a moment.  He is personally choosing a criteria by which he is evaluating morality and then declaring anyone who chooses a different criteria to be objectively wrong.  However, take a look at it from the perspective of a slave owner.  Their own criteria, I would assume, would make Matt wrong in their eyes. I suspect Matt doesn’t care, but to watch him rant and not even recognize that his own choice of a criteria is subjective is really absurd. Matt picks a criteria that matches his personal views, just like the slave owner would pick a criteria that matches his personal views.  It’s all opinion and while I’m certain that Matt thinks his opinion is best, that doesn’t mean it actually is, it’s just the one he favors.

The fact remains, there is no objective morality at all!  That doesn’t mean that there is a relative morality, that everyone is right in whatever moral view they choose, simply because it appeals to them, but that *NOBODY* is right! Right and wrong don’t even enter into it.  There is no single correct moral standard on any question you can ask.  Unfortunately, this makes a lot of people uncomfortable for reasons I’ve detailed in the past.  Most people don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their morality.  They don’t want to constantly re-evaluate their beliefs.  They just want something that they can cling to for the long term that they don’t have to think about on a daily or weekly basis.  They desperately want to believe that they’ve got the truth all locked up and never have to worry about it again.  That’s not a rational position to hold.

MosesMoralityWhat Matt doesn’t seem to recognize is that he’s doing the exact same thing as the theists.  They select a moral criteria that appeals to them.  He did so himself when he was a Christian.  When he stopped being a Christian, he selected a different criteria, probably several of them as he transitioned from a Southern Baptist to an atheist.  I am sure that, during each and every phase of that transition, his moral views were absolutely correct and true, but clearly that wasn’t the case as he ended up rejecting each of them in turn for something that he thought, at the time, was better.  Theists believe that whatever moral standards that are laid down by their deity are true.  If they are ever convinced to change religions, say from Christianity to Islam or Buddhism or whatever, those moral standards will change.  Does that mean that they didn’t think that the moral standards they believed at the time were true?  Of course not.  It just means that they changed their mind.  Matt can also change his mind, he’s already proven that.  Does that mean that, when he was a Southern Baptist, he knew that the morals he was following at that time were false?  Certainly not, I doubt he would have followed them if he did.

Ultimately, rights and morals only come out of the collective decision-making of a culture or society.  There was a time in America where owning slaves was perfectly fine, it was legal and moral and slaves had few if any rights.  Times changed.  Society stopped accepting one view and started accepting another view.  Today, we have a diametrically opposite moral opinion than we did several hundred years ago.  Does that make the old view inherently wrong?  Absolutely not, any more than if, in the future, American society again adopts slavery, that makes our views today inherently wrong.  There was a time when women had no rights.  The fact that they do today does not mean that the people in the past were wrong all along, it just means that we have different views. There was a time when Jews were hated in Germany, among other places, and that went on for hundreds of years, leading up to the Holocaust.  Today, we find that abhorrent but that doesn’t change the views of the past, nor make them objectively wrong.  The reality is that morals evolve and change constantly as the whims of society change.  When it change, it doesn’t alter the reality of the old views, it just means we don’t think that way anymore and, unfortunately, people are supremely convinced that what they think right this second is automatically what everyone ought to have always thought everywhere.

This really comes into play when you have two societies with entirely different views on morality that come into conflict.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  It doesn’t matter.  There have been plenty of wars fought over morality, from the Civil War in America to World War II and in both cases, the bigger guns won the war but didn’t really prove that the losing morals were actually any worse.  Bigger guns do not have anything to say about objective morality.

In the end, these debates on morality only work if people are willing to accept each other’s basic premises.  If not, people need to be willing to debate which, if either, premises is correct.  The whole point of The Atheist Experience is “what do you believe and why”, but apparently that doesn’t apply to Matt’s views on morality because he’s shown himself to be unwilling to debate the “why” behind his moral position.  In fact, he’s proven himself to get entirely and irrationally emotional whenever someone questions is views.  He hangs up on people. That’s not how you debate.  If you cannot support your views with something better than “I like this”, is it really a rational view to have?

The Ongoing Stupidity of Philosophy

Philosophy-vs.-religion

Now I don’t like most philosophy, especially esoteric philosophy, but according to a recent episode of Reasonable Doubts, there’s this ongoing philosophical debate about God deceiving people, whether God is capable of lying for some greater good and all that rigmarole, but what nobody has ever managed to do, or even attempts to do in these debates, is demonstrate that God exists at all!

Don’t you think that it’s a bit of a waste of time to debate the characteristics of an entity that has never even been shown to be real in the first place? It’s like talking about the characteristics of Voldemort.  So what?

I talked about this most recently in my 30-second Debate post where I asked why we allow ourselves to get ahead of the facts.  Is it a worthwhile discussion to have over what God thinks or wants if we haven’t even determined if God actually exists yet?  That is the step that needs to be taken, yet it is the step that theists are unwilling and unable to actually take!

That’s why I’m convinced, more and more every day, that these debates with theists are ultimately pointless if they’re not willing to answer the biggest and most important question their position presents.  It doesn’t matter if you build philosophical arguments for God, you have to assume God exists a priori and that’s a problem in my book, one that I simply will never accept again in any debate I have.

Now maybe it’s because I’m so grounded in the physical sciences, but I wouldn’t walk into a debate with a Bigfoot believer and let them spin philosophical yarns about what Bigfoot wants or how Bigfoot thinks, I want them to prove Bigfoot exists at all before we can get down to any more weighty issues.  The same with ghosts.  The same with leprechauns.  The same with alien abductions.  Trot out your objective evidence for me to examine before you start explaining your blind fanatical faith because without anything real to hang it upon, it’s meaningless. Besides, how does anyone actually know, as opposed to blindly believe, any of these claims about God if they can’t even demonstrate God is real in the first place?  It’s just more theological masturbation and I’m not going to take part.

So no, I’m no longer interested in playing these stupid games.  I don’t care what the Bible says.  I don’t care what your religion says.  I don’t care what your faith says.  I care what’s real and until you can prove that the very basis of your beliefs is actually real, you’ve got nothing worth saying.  I’m not going to give it a pass for the sake of argument, I’m saying that you have no argument whatsoever until you actually manage to prove it.

Therefore, I doubt I’ll be spending longer than 30 seconds on any debate in the future.

 

Why I Call It “Philosophical Masturbation”

Achilles_tortoiseI use that term a lot and it gets me into a fair amount of trouble with the philosophically-minded.  However, I think it’s important to understand that philosophy, like just about everything else that we humans do, is just an invention of humanity, it’s not some grand scheme written on the cosmos that we’ve managed to tap into.  I made the point recently that so many of the things that we consider objective and universal are really quite small. Take mathematics.  We think that our calculations and equations are really meaningful as written, but in reality, all the chicken scratches we make are the products of our minds and beyond this small blue orb of ours, mean nothing whatsoever.  If you take the most complex and beautiful mathematical calculation you can imagine and send it off into the universe and it’s found by some equally intelligent species somewhere, they’re not  going to have a clue what it says because they have no idea what a “1” is.  A meaningful discussion between distant alien races, destroyed because of disparate notations.  Sure, we know that “1” is a symbol that we understand to refer to a specific kind of thing, but to anyone else, it’s a mark with no inherent meaning.  For humans who are unable to step back and evaluate things beyond our own particular context, we tend to think we’re pretty hot shit when really, we’re not.

I think that a lot of philosophers tend to fall into that trap.  They’re really enamored with the mental gymnastics they can roll around in their heads and think that it makes them smart, but in reality, they’re just mentally jiggling their right hand.  In far too many cases, you get the philosophically-minded taking a genuinely simple problem, layering it with piles of entirely unnecessary complexity and claiming they’ve actually done something useful, all the while hoping they can find someone to pay them for their efforts.  It’s this kind of thing that I really object to.

Let’s look at a couple of Zeno’s paradoxes as  an example.  The first I’ll go into here, the other I’ll provide a link for because I don’t really feel like typing it all out.  Both fall under the general category of Achilles vs. the Tortoise, as argued by Aristotle.

Achilles is in a footrace with the tortoise  and allows the tortoise a 100 meter head start.  Assuming both runners can run at a constant speed and that the  tortoise runs at a speed half-as-fast as Achilles, Aristotle argued that Achilles can never overtake the tortoise because as each moves forward, Achilles will always have to cover some further distance.  Of course, this is just ridiculous.  If we assume, for instance, that Achilles can run 100 meters in 1 minute, just to keep the numbers easy, although it makes Achilles a really slow runner, that means that in the same amount of time, the tortoise will run 50 meters.  At the end of the first minute of the race, Achilles will be 50 meters behind the tortoise.  At the end of the second minute, Achilles and the tortoise will be neck and neck.  At the end of the third minute, Achilles will be 50 meters ahead of the tortoise and well on his way to victory, depending on where the finish line is.  Philosophers try to add in all kinds of  ridiculous complexity, arguing that there is an infinite number of points between Achilles and the tortoise, but in reality, it adds nothing to the argument.  It’s the same as the claim that you can never catch a bus because in order to catch a bus, you have to go half-way there, but to get to that half-way point, you have to go half-way to that half-way point and so on and so on and so on, thus you can never catch the bus, but in reality, people catch buses every day.

The same can be said for my second example, which is Lewis Carroll’s take on the Achilles and the tortoise problem.  I’m not going to explain it in great detail, you can read more about it here, but it’s just as ridiculous.  It essentially produces a syllogism:

  • A:  Two things that are equal to the same are equal to each other.
  • B:  The two sides of this triangle are equal to the  same.
  • Therefore Z:  The two sides of this triangle are equal to each other.

Essentially, this takes the form of a truism.  If two things are identical in every way, then they are identical in every way.  Carroll, however, adds more complexity.

  • C:  If A and B are true, then Z must be true.

And then…

  • D:  If A, B and C are true, then Z must be true.

And it continues ad nauseum.  The problem is, C, D, E, F, G, etc. add absolutely nothing to the syllogism.  They’re just dead weight.  Having them in the argument is no better than not having them there.  Carroll argues that there is always another premise that must be accepted and thus you can never be certain that this syllogism is, in fact, correct.  That’s ridiculous.  Yes, this is a discussion about the possible hazards of making logical inferences and that’s something that  needs to be addressed, but the way in which the argument is constructed is really pointless.  Whereas I would argue that simplifying an argument down to it’s most basic components makes the argument most accessible, it seems like philosophers like to bloat an argument with pointless and ultimately worthless elements so that it looks like they’re doing something useful.  I honestly don’t think that just sitting around noodling your navel is a worthwhile use of time, sorry.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of philosophical pursuits that can and do result in good thinking and reasoning, but the idea that reason can solve the world’s problems in a vacuum is really absurd.  That’s why philosophers don’t make new discoveries, scientists do.  The scientific method has provided us much more meaningful knowledge than pure philosophy has.  Science, as they say, works, bitches.  You can construct beautiful philosophically self-consistent arguments with 100% logically valid conclusions and still be dead wrong. Science and rational philosophy can make beautiful music together, but philosophy, without a foot set firmly in reality, really produces little of value.

But some philosophers will say that we are all philosophers in some way and to some extent, that may be true, but it is no more worthwhile than theists who claim that everyone has faith, therefore faith is valid.  There’s a difference between the usage of “faith’ as it applies to religion and the usage of “faith” as it applies to rational endeavors though.  Rationally, a better word is “trust”, based on evidence and past objective experience.  Therefore, I don’t know that using the same word to refer to two different things is really linguistically accurate and I think that applies to using “philosophy” as well.

There are some good uses of philosophy, but the vast majority, especially modern, post-modern philosophy has largely become self-important nonsensical navel-noodling, meaningless to the real world and pointless to anyone but the philosophers themselves.  I reject this thinking when the religious do it (the most egregious example being presuppositionalism) and I reject it when non-theists do it too.  The ability to twist words to your liking and vomit verbal soup doesn’t actually solve any problems, it just makes it look like you’re saying something intelligent.

It ain’t necessarily so, it’s just a bunch of philosophical masturbation.

The Problem of Absolutes

Certainty vs_ UncertaintyIn debates with theists, you will often see them demand absolute certainty for any particular claim and, barring that absolute certainty, they dismiss the claim as invalid.  That’s something they and probably everyone else needs to understand and that is absolute certainty isn’t a reasonable measure of confidence in any proposition.

Stephen Jay Gould once said that in science  ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’  Absolutely everything in science is up for revision and reassessment constantly.  There is nothing that is true to any degree of absolute certainty, only that which matches the data and evidence we have on hand today.

So why do theists ask for it?  Mostly because they do not arrive at their positions rationally, nor believe it logically, thus they are really comparing apples and Toyotas.  They confuse knowledge and belief and think that just having blind faith that a position is true is the same as coming to a position through logic, reason and evidence.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  When a theist says they absolutely know that God is real, not only are they factually wrong, they can present no basis for claiming to have such knowledge, but that’s entirely different from a scientist accepting a claim.  Further, they are taking the colloquial usage of the word (“I’m absolutely certain I fed the dogs this morning.”) and trying to apply that to a measurably precise usage, where you have no measure of doubt and cannot possibly be wrong about a given proposition.

Even Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” isn’t actually demonstrable.  Just because you are convinced that you are thinking, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t be an incredibly complex AI program that is designed to give the illusion of thought.  How would you ever know for sure?  You can’t.  It’s likewise true that there is no absolute means for defeating hard solipsism, for many of the same reasons, but that really brings me to the point of this entire article, that claiming anything to any degree of absolute certainty, no matter what it is, is absurd, just as requiring absolute certainty for any position is absurd.

And before you play that foolish “you just  claimed that there are absolutely no absolutes so there are absolutes” card, forget it.  I didn’t say anywhere that there are absolutely no absolutes.  So far as we can determine, there are no absolutes.  It is a falsifiable statement.  If you think there are demonstrable absolutes, feel free to produce one. Prove me wrong.  Otherwise, stop pretending you’re clever.

So what does this all mean?  That absolute certainty, as a claim about knowledge, has to be thrown out the window, down the hill and into the lake.  There is no absolute certainty and even that isn’t absolutely certain.  It’s just a means of messing with your opponent, it’s not a reasonable requirement and once you understand it, it’s not even a rational one.    It’s based on emotion and it’s a quick and easy safety hatch for the religious who believe on an entirely emotional basis, not an intellectual one.  All one has to do is ask how theists *KNOW* the things they claim to know and invariably, their answers will include words like “faith” and “belief”.  That’s not knowledge. Knowledge requires a demonstrable basis in evidence or logic, which they do not have.

Please, the next time a theist tells you that you cannot absolutely prove that anything science accepts is true, smack them in the face and tell them that they cannot be absolutely sure of anything they believe either. Absolutes are absolutely ridiculous.

Another Podcast Down Because of Feminism

gender_equality_2
Gender equality, it works both ways, except with feminists.

I’ve recently given up entirely on The Non-Prophets Podcast, which may seem a little strange considering they just came back from a very long hiatus, but I hate to say it but I’ve lost any and all respect for the people involved and if I can’t respect the hosts or their views or opinions, why should I pay attention to their podcast?  At issue here was a long and absurd rant on MRAs and feminism and how one is valid and the other is not.  Primarily at issue here is Jeff Dee, although everyone else chimed in and sorry, after this load of nonsense, I’m through.

Now as everyone knows, I’m not a feminist by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I belong to the MRA side.  I am in favor of equality across the board on both sides.  I actually consider a lot of people who wear either label to be fundamentally sexist, I see no point in calling oneself pro-female or pro-male when I’m pro-everyone.  I’d also not call myself pro-black or pro-white when race is irrelevant to me and everyone ought to have equal rights in everything.

But that’s not what happened, in fact, they went off railing against an e-mail, suggesting that just because women are behind on equality around the world (this is really not the case in most first-world nations, it’s primarily in the third world where these first-world-feminists have no say whatsoever), that men ought not seek to correct inequalities where they’re actually behind, because overall, they’re still ahead.  So… you shouldn’t worry about specific inequalities because there’s some imaginary scorecard where you have extra points?

Bullshit.  Now as I said, I’m not MRA, but the people that I know that are, they are specifically in response to the feminists.  They are protesting against shortcomings in men’s rights because feminists seem to only care about the rights of women.  The majority of people I know of who are MRAs are not only for men’s rights, they want equality for all, they just don’t want one side being left behind because all the attention is being paid to the other.  I don’t necessarily agree with how they do it, but the goals seem admirable, a lot more admirable than the third-wave feminist fucks that we see on the Atheism+ side.  They don’t care if men live or die.  In fact, some of them actively want to stab men in the back.  That is not the way a logical, rational person ought to deal with the world.

I don’t play this game with a score card.  I don’t tick off when one side is ahead of the other.  So far as I’m concerned, if either side is ever behind, we’re losing.  That goes for gender, that goes for race, that goes for sexual orientation, etc.  This is not a dick-waving contest, the only goal here that makes any difference is equality for all and when we find a place where inequality reigns, we need to stomp it, no matter who is “ahead” at the moment.  If you don’t, then you’re sexist.  I don’t want anything to do with sexists.

Therefore, I’m just opting out of the Non-Prophets podcast entirely.  I have no interest in wasting my time listening to people that I fundamentally disagree with.  I know  they don’t care and frankly, I don’t care that they don’t.  They’ve proven they’re part of the problem and unfortunately, I don’t think they even realize it or care. However, I do and it matters to me so I take action.

Toodle-loo, go with God and don’t take any wooden nickels.

What Killed Halloween For Me

Haunted HouseIt seems that every year, I write a Halloween post, despondent over the current state of the holiday and wishing things were still the way they used to be, back in the day.  This isn’t just a case of “good old dayism”, where people have a convenient and nostalgic memory of the past, there have been some serious and dramatic changes in the way Halloween has been celebrated over the past 30 years or so and, as far as I’m concerned, all for the worse.

So I sat down and thought about this and I came up with two causes for these changes and, no surprise, they fall to the two most talked about evils on this blog, religion and liberalism.

See, back in the old days, kids went door to door in droves, begging for candy, usually dressed up in creative and inventive costumes that they and their parents put together.  It wasn’t a pre-packaged affair.  You didn’t go buy a costume from a store, you made it yourself and a lot of kids were really, really inventive.  Sure, you saw your fair share of ghosts, white sheets with eye-holes cut out, but you also saw people with elaborate costumes that would fit right into a convention masquerade contest.

It wasn’t just kids though, lots of adults got into the act.  I know that in the half-dozen blocks around where I lived, there were at least 6-8 large, elaborate haunted houses that people built in their garages or back yards, free to anyone who wanted to go through them.  That was really where I stood out, every year, my haunted house got bigger and bigger until it filled the garage, the driveway and the back yard.  It had more than a dozen themed rooms and I pulled no punches.  I made it as scary (not excessively gross) as I possibly could and I put no restrictions on who could go through it.  Sure, I warned people but if some 6-year old kid wanted to go through, I didn’t stop them, that was the job of their parents, not me.

Of course, trick-or-treating has largely gone the way of the dinosaur in a lot of places because it’s “dangerous”.  No, the liberals wanted people to trick-or-treat in the safety of malls, where carefully checked pre-packaged candy was handed out by people who had background checks to make sure they weren’t sex offenders and kids were only allowed to wear pre-approved, non-offensive costumes so everyone had a bland, boring time.  Parents loved it because they didn’t have to worry.  Kids loved it because they didn’t have to walk for miles to fill up their bags with candy.  The only people who hated it were the people who loved Halloween.

On the other side were the religious who were concerned that Halloween was evil and that dressing up in a scary costume was the same as making a pact with the devil.  They forced schools to stop having Halloween parties and made them call it a “Fall Festival”.  They wouldn’t permit anyone to act in a manner disrespecting their religious superiority.  Instantly, schools, which had these big parties with lots of costumes, went to un-costumed affairs with politically correct themes.  It’s not surprising that the schools are largely run by the liberals either.

So now we have an annual safe Halloween down Main Street, held only during the daylight hours of 3-5pm, where helicopter parents carry their commercially costumed kids up and down the street to be filled with perfectly safe candy and pre-approved advertising.  You can’t stand out there and hand out anything, food or otherwise, unless you’ve been properly vetted.  There are some small groups of kids that still go door-to-door, but not where I am, I haven’t had a single trick-or-treater in over a decade.  I stopped decorating long ago, I don’t buy candy to hand out, only a couple of bags for the family to share, I spend my Halloween watching TV.  There’s really nothing else to do.

In the interest of full disclosure though, there might be one thing that the conservatives did to hurt Halloween too.  See, back when we were all putting up our own Haunted Houses, nobody ever had an insurance rider in case something happened.  The building inspectors didn’t come out and make sure it was up to code.  It was just good, clean fun that everyone overlooked for the couple of days it was up and then, it was taken down for another year. Today, that would never fly.  You’d have to have special insurance and government permits to run something, even for free, and your house would have to be properly zoned, just in case someone got hurt (nobody ever did in my experience).  We live in an absurdly litigious society, where anyone will sue anyone else at the drop of a hat if they think there’s money to be made.  That needs to change too.

I really wish the old Halloween would come back, but as society becomes liberalized, as religion’s hold remains powerful, the chances of that are slim.  Halloween used to be fun.  Now it’s a homogenized, sanitized, commercialized celebration of mediocrity.  Where’s the fun in that?

Why Should I Care About Your Lifestyle?

gay
It’s not a secret lifestyle if you tell everyone you’ve ever met!

I recently had someone that I know, someone who isn’t a friend, more of an acquaintance, come up to me and announce that he is gay.  Okay… so what?  Why is this something they were convinced I wanted to know or cared about?  I mean, I see this person maybe once or twice a year and very rarely ever on a personal basis, why was I one of the people he felt he had to run out and make a personal announcement to concerning his sexuality?

I just don’t care.  If he’s gay, good for him, I guess.  I don’t feel the need to run around and announce to the world that I’m heterosexual, I really don’t need him telling me what he does in bed.  So what.  Go have fun.  Whatever.  Should I go around to all the people I know and whisper my ice cream preference in their ears?  I think they ought to know!

Yet there are so many people out there who think the entire world has to be intimately involved in every aspect of their lives, they have to tell the planet what they had for breakfast or what music they’re listening to, why in the hell do they think anyone gives a damn?  And if it is something that they really think people ought to know, why are they usually so secretive about it?  Why not announce it on the street corner?  Why not have a “I’m gay” party?  Make up your mind!

Now I’m not trying to be mean or anything, I’m sure that these people think that these announcements are important, that people ought to know and that they want  to trust their closest friends and family members with their “secrets”, I get that, but there’s got to be a point at which it’s inappropriate. I am not this guy’s closest friend or family member, I don’t work with him, I don’t even see him very often and if I do, I virtually never even talk to him.  Who knows, maybe he’s just going down a list of people he’s ever met in his life to tell them his big “secret”.  Maybe he just wants people to know he’s getting laid, I don’t know.  That makes it even more pathetic.

I really don’t understand where all of this “pssst! I have to tell you something…” nonsense came from.  Coming out isn’t a secret.  I don’t go whispering in people’s ear that I’m an atheist.  I’m very open about it.  I don’t go telling people that I slept with my wife last night, that’s none of anyone’s business.  What I do in the privacy of my bedroom is my concern, nobody else’s and I honestly don’t care what you do in the privacy of  your own.  If you’re gay, fine.  Show up at a party with your same-sex partner.  It won’t phase me a bit because honestly, I never assumed you were gay or straight to begin with and I never cared.  I still don’t.  Your sexuality is irrelevant to me.  So is your taste in ice cream.

Besides, it’s virtually never a surprise anyhow, everyone who might have cared knew you were gay already, you didn’t need to come along and tell them that.  I just wish people would get over all of this “I have to tell you a secret” nonsense.  It’s not only unnecessary, it’s annoying.  If I cared, I’d probably already know and if I didn’t know, I probably don’t care.  Keep your secrets to yourself or, if you think it’s important enough that I ought to know, just be open about it and let everyone figure it out for themselves.

Liberal Stupidity on Abortion

equal_rights_for_all_special_treatment_for_noneThere are reasons that I really avoid a couple of debate subjects, like abortion and racism, because the second you make any statements, no matter how mild, the whining liberals are out in force trying to make you seem like a hate-monger.  This is really why I utterly hate the whole radical feminist nonsense, because they’re not reasonable, rational people, they’re fanatics.

Unfortunately, I fell into this again when someone on a forum posed a simple question.  Given that abortion is legal and the sole prerogative of the woman, should men be given an equal chance to end their financial and social obligations on a pregnancy?  I answered that of c0urse they should, if we’re going for equality, if a woman has an “out” on an unwanted pregnancy, it is only fair for a man to similarly get an “out” on an unwanted pregnancy.  It’s equal.  It’s fair.  That’s what we’re supposed to be going for.

But no, the whining self-identified liberals and progressives are out in force.  They don’t give a damn about equality.  It’s not even in their playbook.  We see this among the Atheism+ assholes who are fanatically pro-woman and fanatically anti-man.  Of course, it’s not just them, it’s the whole radical feminist movement and that takes up a lot of modern liberal thought.

So anyhow, I make some very simple comments that everyone ought to be equal and if you’re going to give rights to one side, you have to give equivalent rights to the other.  I never once suggested taking away anyone’s rights.  It was always framed as equality.  And then the liberal assholes came out of the woodwork.

Nope, no equality for men.  Women have an absolute right to have an abortion if they want it, but if they choose not to have an abortion, then men have no choice whatsoever but to spend 18 years paying for an unwanted pregnancy.  Women have rights.  Men have none.  So lots of people start saying how unfair that is and the liberals start claiming that we all want to take away abortion rights from women!  Surely, calling for equality means that we want to eliminate rights!  What a bunch of idiots.

men-and-women-are-equal
Isn’t this how it’s supposed to be? Not according to liberals.

But wait, it gets better!  The liberals started arguing that if a man wants the same rights, he can get an abortion! Seriously!  When I pointed out how perilously close that was to the far-right claim that gays who want equal rights can just marry people of the opposite sex, they called me a gay-hater.

I honestly do not get how my liberal readers can possibly stand up and side with these morons.  Seriously, justify being able to stomach standing alongside these cocksuckers.  You scream and cry about how horrible the religious right is, how gays deserve equality, when there are people on  your own side  that are pulling this kind of stupidity?  You ought to be ashamed of them and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for not telling them where to shove their stupidity.

It just makes me sick to see this kind of  ridiculous doubletalk and blatant hypocrisy.  Worse yet is their complete inability to recognize that they’re being ridiculously hypocritcal.  It’s pointed out to them, time and time again and they cannot understand the concept of equality or equivalent rights.  The second you suggest an equivalent right for men, they act like you’re taking rights away from women.

So, since I don’t dare open my mouth and suggest actual equality for all, I’ll go ahead and make my suggestion for actual equality for both sides here.  Yeah, I don’t expect anyone to like it, but what can you expect?

A woman finds out she’s pregnant.  She knows who the father is.  If she decides she’s going to keep it, she has to inform the father before she reaches a certain point in the pregnancy.  Yes, I know that some women don’t realize they’re pregnant until later, but that’s a relatively rare thing so we’ll leave that to be worked out in those rare cases.  I’m not even going to say what that time is, it’s a detail, not a part of the real plan.  Once the father has been informed, he has a certain amount of time to decide if he wants to take financial responsibility for the upcoming infant.  If he does, fine, everything proceeds as normal.  If not though, he files a legal form, provides a certain amount of money, typically I’d suggest an amount to cover the cost of an abortion, and he is freed from any and all financial liability for the child.  Then the woman can make her decision, knowing that she is going to be solely financially responsible for the child, whether to use the money for an abortion or not.  Regardless, she has no legal recourse to force the father to have anything to do with the child, nor is he able to have anything to do with the child until the child is 18 years old.  He is not recorded on the birth certificate, although I think some record should be made in the event of a serious medical emergency where he might need to be contacted.  And then… that’s it.  He’s no longer the legal father, she’s 100% responsible.

But wait, I hear lots of liberals whine, what if she can’t afford to do it on her own?  That’s her problem, isn’t it?  She needs to be responsible for her own actions and her own decisions.  If she can’t afford to take care of it, then have an abortion or give it up for adoption.  I know responsibility is a bad word in liberal circles, but this demonstrates a dearth of irresponsibility from all concerned parties.  If these two morons were responsible, they wouldn’t be in bed together without being in a serious, long-term relationship to begin with.  They would have decided beforehand if they wanted a pregnancy to occur and if one did, what their response would be to it.  It should all be worked out ahead of time.  But no, people are stupid and liberals are happy to have stupid people on their side. Their entire political and social philosophy depends on stupidity and irresponsibility.

That’s kind of the whole problem with liberalism.

Changing Language Doesn’t Change Reality

DictionariesThere are lots of people out there who want to change our language to reflect their agenda.  It’s not just the left, although they seem to be the most adamant about it.  Lefty feminists want to get rid of all male-oriented words and replace them with gender-neutral terms.  Many liberals want to eliminate all words that might possibly cause anyone to be offended, the so-called “politically correct” movement.  There are transgendered people, again, typically on the left, who want to change gender words even further, I’ve seen them try to “transgenderify” them like using “womyn” and the like.  I even saw someone who said we ought to stop calling it the “White House” because that is racist. Never mind it’s painted white or anything.  And on the right, while they’re not so much trying to change the language, they’re trying to preserve it.  They don’t want gays to be able to use the word “marriage”.  What both sides fail to recognize is that the words really don’t matter.  The words are just sounds coming out of our mouths. What matters is the common understanding that people have of what those particular sounds signify and you can’t change that just by rotating characters or inventing new terms.  These things do happen, dictionaries are continually updated to reflect new words introduced into our language, but to do so for a political agenda is stupid.

See, there’s something important to recognize here that I talked about a long time ago.  People need to be able to take a few steps back and look at their arguments to see if they make any sense.  Unfortunately, few do and most are just emotionally attached to their beliefs, not in rationally evaluating them.  The fact is, trying to change words is just a shortcut, an attempt to alter the argument without addressing the problems involved.

The reality though is that it doesn’t matter what the word is, only what you understand the word to mean.  The fact is, my “mailman” has been a woman for more than a decade.  I don’t have to change the language to reflect that fact, only my understanding of the word.  She isn’t a “mailperson”, she isn’t a “mailwomyn”, she is a mailman because that’s the word for the job she’s doing.  Most people simply disassociate gender from the term and allow it to be used for everyone who might possibly be doing the job.

George Carlin had a great bit on this a long time ago and it all still holds true.  Being offended by words makes no sense.  Try being offended by ideas.  That’s all that really makes a difference.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUvdXxhLPa8′]

Suicide is Painless

MASHOr so the old theme song from M.A.S.H. goes.  I honestly get really tired of people getting up in arms about suicide, like it’s the worst thing anyone could ever do.  Personally, I’m fine with people deciding to kill themselves, but then again, I’m an atheist and I don’t have to pretend that offing yourself sends you to eternal perdition.  That’s what the early Christian church had to do, after so many early believers were killing themselves to get to heaven with Jesus and the church was losing workers and income.  They decided to declare suicide a mortal sin, just to keep their cash flow positive.

This is just an issue that has come up several times of late, both in a discussion about the suicide of Lee Thompson Young and another discussion about bullying, both of which have produced people who have some really, really strong feelings about suicide.

Me, I don’t care about suicide.  I think that if a person wants to kill themselves, for whatever reason, we ought to let them.  I don’t find suicide a tragedy, I don’t think it’s even an issue.  I think people ought to have the right to decide when their life ends, be it to avoid painful, debilitating disease or simply because they’ve decided they’ve lived long enough.  It isn’t like we’re going to run out of people if a few, here and there, take themselves out.

Yet we still live in a death-adverse world, where people are terrified to die so they seek to keep everyone around them alive as long as they can, without regard for the other person’s wishes.  It’s part of the culture.  We insist on extraordinary measures to prolong the lives of everyone, sick or not, willing or not, and impugn their sanity if they ever suggest they don’t want to go on.

Of course, the real issue here is that people are terrified of death and they not only don’t want to die, they don’t want anyone around them to die.  They don’t want to see death, they don’t want to hear about death, they don’t want to be exposed to death.  Therefore, they do their damnedest to eliminate death from their vicinity and to declare death a bad thing across the board.

Sorry, but it’s just not.  Death is, in fact, a natural part of life.  Everything dies.  You die.  I die.  Everything I’ve ever known or loved is destined to die.  Accepting this is an essential part of the maturation process.  It’s also something that most people unfortunately never achieve.  Are we supposed to believe that people have a rational right to declare that everyone has to do things to make them emotionally comfortable?  Really?

Conservatism and Capitalism

keep-calm-and-follow-the-rules-14Yeah, I know I’ve talked about this before but I think it’s important.  I only bring it up because, this site is linked through my sig on several forums and someone came over here, read what I’ve written on capitalism, especially the posts I made a while back about people selling animals on Craigslist, then sent me a private message there asking how I can possibly justify being a conservative and getting upset at people who are “just being good capitalists”.

That’s a valid question.  Here’s my answer:

Capitalism, like anything else, is inherently limited.  It’s like rights.  No right, anywhere, is entirely unlimited.  You have the right to free speech, that doesn’t mean you can scream FIRE! in a crowded theater, it doesn’t mean you can slander people or defraud them or anything like that.  Your right to speak freely doesn’t rid you of the responsibility for what you say.

The same is true of capitalism.  I have no problem with people selling animals.  I’ve been an animal breeder in the past, certainly I think that responsibly breeding animals and selling them is a fine thing to do.  That, however, is not what’s happening on Craigslist.  Craigslist has a rule that you cannot sell animals, period.  Take it or leave it.  Craigslist is a private site, they can make whatever rules they want and people who use the site have two options.  Follow the rules or take a hike.  Capitalism, like free speech, doesn’t guarantee you a forum to carry on your business.  Take it elsewhere.

Pretty much the only people out there who push pure capitalism without limits are the ultra-extreme libertarian lunatics.  Everyone else acknowledges that capitalism without limits is untenable.  There has to be regulation, if for nothing else than to provide a relatively level playing field.  We can’t have companies producing toxic food, for instance, or outright lying to the public, or buying up all the competition so they have a complete monopoly and the public has no choice but to buy from them.  There are always limits, there are always regulations.

That doesn’t stop people from whining about it though, which is the one part I always find funny.  On the Craigslist forums, especially the Flag Help forum, you always have people who show up, ask why they were flagged and when they are told, they sit there and argue about it!  Very rarely do they ever say “oh, I did something wrong, I’ll fix it and try again”, they want to yell and scream that they ought to be able to break the rules because they’re special.  Or the ever-popular “I’ve seen other people do it, I ought to be able to do it too!”  It’s very clear on the site that you cannot sell animals, yet they ignore it because it gets in the way of what they want to do.  Screw the rules!  They’re inconvenient!

I’m sorry, but even more important than being able to be a capitalist, in places which allow it, is the maturity to follow the established rules and accept that you’re doing something wrong when it’s pointed out to you that you are.  Unfortunately, far too many people simply don’t want to do that.  They want to scream about it and get their way.

So no, I have never once said that the people who have animals to sell should not be able to sell them, I said that they were not free to sell them on a private site with established rules against doing so.  There are plenty of places out there where selling pets is entirely legitimate and permitted by the rules.  Take it to Kijiji, eBay’s classifieds, where you can sell to your heart’s content.  Oh sure, you have to pay a fee to get listed, but nobody ever said that anyone owed you free advertising, did they?  It’s a part of doing business.  Don’t like it?  Be responsible and don’t breed unwanted animals.

It really can’t be that hard to understand, can it?

People Don’t Understand Intellectual Arguments

IntelligenceRecently, yet another debate popped up on the death penalty and all the regular suspects showed up.  I expected it, which is why I stayed out of it for a long time, because I knew where it would invariably head.  Of course, I as right, it was emotional response after emotional response after emotional response, people talking about their feelings and their wants and their desires and never taking a step back to evaluate the evidence on it’s own merits or to engage in intellectual arguments.

Now I don’t want to do a post on the death penalty, I’ve done that before, this is just one more place where people just can’t be rational.  It could have happened in any number of threads on any number of topics.  I started pointing out to people that they were acting in a wholly emotional, wholly un-intellectual manner and they just didn’t get it.  At all.  All they could talk about is how unhappy things made them, how uncomfortable things made them, how much they didn’t like things, but almost never about how they had looked at the data, examined the evidence, worked through the process and made a determination based on a purely dispassionate, unemotional, rational basis.

That just doesn’t happen and that’s a problem.  I think it’s a huge issue in the modern world, where people rarely have to think outside of their own personal box.  It’s all about them.  It’s all about how it makes them feel.  It’s all about how it affects them personally.  If it gets outside their comfortable little bubble, it’s got to be horrible because their feelings are all that matter.

Yet that’s not really how things work in the real world.  Sometimes, there are decisions that need to be made that aren’t going to make you happy.  There are things that might have to be done that are uncomfortable.  There are times when there are no good options and you have to pick the least bad option, or you have to make sacrifices for the good of all.  I don’t think these people are at all intellectually qualified to deal with those kinds of decisions because they require clear, rational, intellectual thought processes and I don’t think these people are capable.

It’s really no different than what we see out of theist.  All they care about is being happy about their beliefs in an imaginary father-figure in the sky.  Whether it’s actually true or not is irrelevant, it’s all about feeling good.  The same is true of the feminists and race-baiters.  It’s all about emotional comfort, not at all about intelligence, reason or critical thinking.

So why do people have such a problem with this?  I think in general, it’s because our liberalized educational system doesn’t teach people how to think or how to reason, it just shoves ideas down their uncritical gullets and expects them to regurgitate it on command.  Most of the time, at least until you get to college, nobody is worried about how you come to conclusions, only that you come to the right conclusions and can fill in the right bubble on the test form.  That’s not really a good way to do things in my opinion.  Young children have an amazing capacity to soak up knowledge and what they learn is usually learned for life.  The most important thing we can teach any young child is the ability to think rationally and critically and to evaluate evidence intellectually.  Yes, I’m aware that the religious and other groups that seek to indoctrinate children will oppose this vigorously, it is a dangerous thing if the funnel they’re using to fill up a child’s brain with nonsense comes with a bullshit-filter, but that’s really what we need to install on every young mind.  It keeps religion to a minimum, it keeps indefensible political nonsense at low levels and it makes them more likely to grow up into intelligent, rational and useful members of society.  That’s exactly why it will never be done because there are too many powerful groups that benefit from keeping people stupid and those people in a position to make a difference are already too stupidified by the process to want to change the process for the better.

Still, for those few of us out there who can think and can separate our wishes and desires from our rational evaluation of the world, we’re left shaking our heads as the planet slips farther into chaos and the number of people who can think intelligently become fewer and fewer.  America has become dumbed down, almost to the point of no return.  After we pass it, what do we do then?  Turn on more reality TV?

Eternally The Outsider

outsiderIt’s really tough being a secular conservative in the modern world, you are always on the outside.  It’s virtually impossible to find a place to fit in when  the only people who tend to hold your fiscal and social views are the ardent religious and the only people who tend to reject belief in gods are far-left liberals.  It gets even worse when you have an interest in sci-fi and fantasy popular arts like television, movies, books, comics, etc., where some large percentage of the audience skews young and therefore, liberal.  It means that, pretty much without fail, I spend a huge amount of my online time biting my tongue in some fashion or another.  You don’t dare stray outside of the very narrowly defined confines of shared interest or you get attacked.

Yes, I said attacked.

Now I’m not going to regale anyone with stories of these attacks, I’ve done so in the past and it’s largely not productive.  It really just means that someone like me can never have a true home online with any of these groups.  Even those few other people who self-identify as conservative atheists, as I’ve said before, have taken to focusing purely on one side of the coin, to the point that they really don’t want to talk about the other.  They’re either atheists first and refuse to talk politics, or they’re political bloggers exclusively and refuse to talk religion.  Finding a way to marry the two has proven to be an extreme challenge and, honestly, it’s one that I’ve failed pretty much across the board to do.  Finding any significant audience that shares both sides of my personal worldview (and yes, I hate that word but it seems to apply here) is virtually impossible.  When I write about atheism, I draw the ire of religious conservatives.  When I talk about conservatism, I draw the ire of liberal atheists.  I just can’t win.  But whereas this might otherwise drive one to despair or depression or disillusionment, it’s done something else for me.

It’s pissed me off.

And it’s because I’m pissed off at a world that is being poisoned by both religion and rampant liberalism, that I write.  It’s kept me going for 8 years and I’m not going to be stopping any time soon.  It’s actually pretty easy to chalk the planet’s problems up to a single, overarching problem:  irrationality and unbridled emotionalism.  There are far, far, far too many people out there who drift through their lives just “feeling” things or reacting emotionally to things, they never bother to sit down and actually think or reason or justify their positions rationally.  I get the appeal, emotions are easy, they take no effort and, at the end of the day, they just feel good. At some deep, primitive level in our brains, we’re “programmed” to be emotional beings, it’s how we evolved, but that doesn’t mean it remains a good thing today.  Oh, don’t  get me wrong, I’m not saying we should eliminate all emotion and be stiff automatons, certainly our emotions have a lot of valid and important uses, but we also evolved this wonderful, sentient, intelligent part of our brains and if we don’t use it as well, what’s the point?

Our future rests on intelligence.  It relies on it.  It requires it.  Nobody invented anything useful because they “felt” their way through it.  They didn’t come up with the Internet because “it felt good”, but because it was a potentially useful tool and it took serious brain power and technical know-how to accomplish the task.  We live in an increasingly technological society that is being absolutely hamstrung by uncontrolled emotionalism.  It’s what drives religion and it’s what drives liberalism.  It’s wishful thinking because it feels good, not realistic thinking that can actually lead us down a productive and healthy path.

I defy anyone to produce evidence that either religion or liberalism produces rationally superior results to either logical atheism or actual conservatism.  Anyone?  Just one person will do.  Don’t give me emotional diatribes, show, via objective evidence and critically evaluation, that either of these things can get us from point A to an intellectually superior point B.

I don’t think anyone can do it.

So I guess I’ll just continue to write and say the same thing I’ve said for 8 years and weather the slings and arrows of the irrational left and the insane religious because they’re just not on the same page as rational people.  I care about the future.  I care about where we’re going.  Does anyone else really care at all?

In a Tizzy over Suicide

lee-thompson-youngI never troll discussions, but I know that when I post certain things, that the majority of posters are going to run around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.  Such is the case in a recent discussion over the suicide death of former Jett Jackson TV series star Lee Thompson Young.  Immediately, there was much crying and gnashing of teeth, both over his death and especially because he killed himself.

My immediate question was… why?  After all, none of these people ever met the man, none of them had any personal connection to him, why was there such a brouhaha over his death, especially over his cause of death, from people who often hadn’t seen him on TV in years?

One guy was honest, apparently Young was on some TNT drama that was having it’s season finale preempted due to his death, but for the rest, they all tried desperately to rationalize their behavior.  These are the same people who, whenever anyone famous dies, whenever something bad happens to anyone in the media, they go on and on and on about how awful it was.  I personally don’t find it awful.  I accept that death is a natural part of life.  Everyone and everything dies.  Everyone I know, everyone I love, everyone I’ve ever met will eventually drop dead.  I will die.  This planet will die.  The universe will die.  That’s life.  I might think that if someone’s life is taken by another, we ought to pay attention to that, after all, I do that every week in the Religious Horror Show, but otherwise, we’re all dying a little every day and our feelings on the matter are entirely irrelevant.

Worse yet in this case, people were going on and on about how horrible suicide is and how nobody ought ever be allowed to take their own lives.  Why?  If Young decided that he wanted to kill himself, and I don’t pretend to have any idea what was going through his head and honestly, it doesn’t matter, why should he not be able to bring about the end of his own life if he finds a reason he thinks is valid and worthwhile?  But no, that’s not the position of the whiners.  There is no conceivable reason why anyone should ever be allowed to kill themselves, other than a few who acknowledged extreme, debilitating pain, so there!  But where do these people get the idea that they have any actual say in the matter, or that they ought to?

But that’s the thing, I don’t see suicide as a bad thing.  I see it as a choice.  It can be a good choice, it can be a bad choice, but it is a choice that one ought to be able to make for oneself.  Now sure, I think there are some really stupid reasons to kill yourself, like being dumped by your 16 year old boyfriend or girlfriend,  That’s pretty weak and that individual could probably be served by some counseling, not to talk them out of it, but to provide some perspective.  If they still want to throw themselves off a cliff, that’s fine with me.  It’s not my life, it’s not my place to make sure anyone lives by my standards.  After all, I don’t fear death a bit.

Ultimately, that’s what all of this comes down to, people’s fear of death and their desire to project it onto others. They don’t want to die so they don’t want anyone else to die.  They don’t want to see death.  They don’t want to hear about death and when death shows up in the media, especially when it’s someone they knew from their childhood, from the big or small screen or from music, they freak out and scream about how awful and horrible it is that someone dared to die!  Especially if it was by their own hand!  But why?  People have to die to make room for more people.  There has to be death in the world or we’d all starve.  It’s part of the life cycle.  We have to make our peace with death to have any hope of being truly alive and I think a lot of people never really do that.

So am I sorry that Young is dead?  I guess.  I never watched much that he was on and his character on FlashForward, coincidentally, committed suicide, but I have no real feelings about him one way or the other.  He’s no more than a face in a crowd to me, no more or less valuable as a human being than an aborigine in Australia or a rice farmer in China or some random person living in Germany or Argentina or Japan.  I don’t freak out when any of those people die, why should Young be any different?

I don’t wax philosophical much, but, to quote the great philosopher James T. Kirk, from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.”  I’d argue that people need to actually deal with death, accept it, embrace it, acknowledge it’s universality, before that fear of dying ends up harming the only life that we actually have.  Wouldn’t that be a shame?

Intelligence is Always Better than Emotion

IrrationalThe farther I look in this world, the more irrationality I see everywhere and even when it’s clearly pointed out, far too many people who pretend to be rational continue to embrace emotion and ignore intellectual thought.

Sorry, there simply is no case where emotionalism is better than rationalism.  Not a single one.

That’s not to say that emotion should never have a part in our decision-making process, after all, we are inherently emotional beings, it’s part of the chemical makeup of our brains, but it should not be the core of any intelligent decision, nor should it be the largest part of the decision.  If all you’re doing is running on pure emotion, you are not going to make a good choice, that much is almost guaranteed.

Yet I see so many supposedly rational atheists doing exactly that.  This seems especially obvious when we get out into liberal politics and social justice issues.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing anyone on the right, they’re just as bad, if not worse, but most of them aren’t pretending to be looking at the world logically and making their decisions rationally.  Plenty of atheists do, yet in a critical evaluation, that’s not how they actually function.

The fact is, in most decisions, “but… but… but… it makes me FEEEEEEEEEL BAD!” is not a rational position to take. It’s not a good place to start, it’s not a good place to finish, it really has no place in any intellectual decision making process.  It’s worse when it has a part and the individual isn’t able to perceive it as such.

Case in point, that ever-popular liberal claim about slavery.  I recently went through this with yet another person who claimed that morality was objective and slavery was absolutely wrong.  It was, as it always is, an emotional argument, but when I pointed that out, he refused to hear it.  According to him, slavery has always been wrong, for all people, across time and space, and everyone who claimed to support slavery actually knew it was wrong, they just did it anyhow.  It reminds me of the Christians who claim that atheists know God exists, they just want to sin.  It’s a clearly ridiculous argument on it’s face, there have been millions of people who have had slaves throughout history who didn’t think it was wrong, in fact, there were many who thought they were doing their slaves a favor.  There are millions of slaves in the world today, owned by people who clearly believe slavery is fine and dandy.  The idea that they’re all wrong and know it, just because thinking otherwise causes some emotional distress  to someone on an Internet forum somewhere, is beyond absurd.

Clearly, by the definition of the word “objective”, morality just doesn’t work that way.  You cannot have an objective morality when people can pick and choose their moral compass, any more than we can declare the speed limits to be objective when we can change them at our whim.  The only way for morality to be objective is for it to come about totally beyond our control.  The speed of light is objective.  It moves at a certain pace, entirely apart from our wishes or desires.  Gravity is objective, the acceleration curve is a constant, regardless of our yearning for it to be different.  That’s not how morality works.

Now don’t get me wrong, just because I recognize that morals aren’t objective, that doesn’t mean anything goes.  Within a particular society, people can choose what will be and will not be acceptable.  The United States has enshrined equality and freedom into our Constitution and it is that Constitution that invariably led to us outlawing slavery, women as second-class citizens and will lead to the end of unequal rights for gays.  That doesn’t necessarily mean we get to declare that everyone on the planet has to think the way we do, any more than they get to declare we should think the way they do.  Where we have seen one nation going to war against another for the purpose of changing moral behavior, that’s been one of military, political and financial force, not moral superiority.  Usually, that’s based on emotion, not intellect.  In fact, I’d argue that virtually all wars are emotionally-driven, if you have to pull out guns and shoot at other people, you’re probably doing something wrong.

How the world feels to us, while it might be terribly important to us as individuals, it really isn’t a good way of handling disagreements between individuals.  Emotion doesn’t get to truth, it doesn’t find facts, that’s the job of the intellect.  We may have started as entirely emotional and instinctual beings, but we’ve evolved beyond that. We have the ability to over-ride our primitive instincts and emotions with the power of our large mammalian brains.  We don’t have to give in to our emotions when doing so is dumb, dangerous and destructive, yet far too many people still follow the dictates of primitive brain chemistry and refuse to consider whether what they are doing is right or wrong.

We should have evolved beyond that, I know I have, what’s it going to take for everyone else to follow suit?

More Liberal Shenanigans on Racism

bullshit-o-meter1
The dial spins when liberalism is involved.

There are reasons I really hate getting into discussions with liberals on controversial topics, because I know, pretty much without a doubt, that most of them are going to engage in blatantly dishonest tactics instead of just dealing with the actual argument being made.

Case in point, I was having a discussion about racism in comic books, I actually have a post scheduled on that actual debate over on my other blog, but it’s the response that I got there that I wanted to talk about here, since it’s largely off-topic on Cephus’ Corner.  The other article is scheduled to post 8/20 /13 and I’ll put a link to it here when it does.

Very briefly, the discussion started over an assertion that comic writer Christopher Priest was drummed out of Marvel Comics because he objected to being asked to write primarily black and hispanic characters.  The assertion is, he was black and therefore, being given black characters to write was inherently racist.  That Priest decided, of his own accord, to walk away from writing comics for Marvel was the very height of racism, evidence that the entire industry hates black people.  Never mind that there are plenty of black writers and artists working in comics today, it’s got to be racism!

So I pointed out that there are many other explanations, such as the very real, and I think probable, possibility that Priest’s writing talents run to writing ethnic characters.  He’s good at it!  There’s nothing wrong with that, a person’s past experiences often strongly influence their writing and creative style.  I happen to very much enjoy how Christopher Priest writes and he single-handedly revitalized the  character of Black Panther with his run. Let’s not forget that Priest also wrote an excellent run of Deadpool, a white character, but liberals don’t talk about that.  However, just  because Priest claims it was racism doesn’t mean that it was, all he’s shown is that Marvel didn’t let him do whatever he wanted to do.  So what?  They don’t let anyone do whatever they want to do, they are in business to make money and they put people on books where their talents are most likely to garner them more money.  Priest’s considerable talents lent themselves to a particular style of comic book.  If he didn’t like writing those comics, he should quit, which he did.  Such is life.

But of course, the loony left liberals don’t like to have their racism screed questioned so I was immediately attacked, not for what I said, but for my assumed racism.  Yes, I was being declared a racist because I didn’t buy into the “institutional racism against blacks” nonsense that serves as a political platform point for the Democrat Party.  I got instantly attacked, piled on with personal insults, someone even went back and found posts that I wrote back as far as 2005, pulled entirely out of context, to suggest that I was a racist. Nope, doesn’t fly, I own everything I’ve said, in the context in which I said it, but this is really beyond the pale.

Unfortunately, it’s also standard liberal operating procedure.  If you can’t address what someone actually says, pretend they say something else and attack that straw man.  When leftist extremists are involved, it’s not a debate, it’s a witch hunt.  We see the same thing recently in the atheist “community” with PZ Myers and the Shermer claims.  If you say something I don’t like, I’ll do everything in my power to destroy you.  It’s the liberal mantra.

I’ve spent years railing on the failures of liberalism, a rather pointless gesture in the midst of a liberal-heavy atheist “community”, but the more I do it, the more I see former dyed-in-the-wool liberals, the ones who are capable of actually thinking about their positions rather than emotionally reacting to them, admitting that maybe they’re not as liberal as they once thought they were.  Liberalism, like it or not, is a failed political and social philosophy.  It doesn’t do anything to strengthen a society, it doesn’t do anything to improve a culture, it doesn’t produce demonstrably better results.  It makes people weak.  It makes them more dependent on the government. It makes them poorer and less prepared to climb out of that poverty.  It is totally unsustainable, as we see from the world around us today.  Cities fall into bankruptcies due to liberal politics, countries like Greece fall apart because they’ve gone too far into liberal loony land, things are only going to get worse until people realize that having their hand out for a government check isn’t the solution to the world’s problems, it’s the cause.

Liberal dishonesty, like neo-con dishonesty, ought to be expected because both are positions which cannot be rationally justified.  They rely on emotion, not intelligence, which is why, when backed into a corner, they lash out emotionally, not rationally.  It’s no wonder that this planet is terminally screwed up if these are two of the major choices people have to contend with in social and political ideologies.

The Inherent Moral Quandry

moralityOver on Atheist Revolution, vjack wrote a post on morality and we got into some debate there, with myself playing the devil’s advocate, over why morality is inherently subjective.  I really don’t understand why so many atheists have such a problem with this, it seems quite obvious to me.

So what is objective morality?  It really means that it must be a demonstrable standard that exists beyond humanity.  If we compare it to science, say, the speed of light in a vacuum, that’s objective.  It is the same for everyone, it is independently measurable and testable and anyone who disagrees on it is simply demonstrably wrong.  One’s opinion on the subject is entirely irrelevant.  Unfortunately, a lot of people get very uncomfortable when it comes to moral questions because there really is no way to objectively validate one’s opinion.  That’s why so many people have tried, over the centuries, to declare morality comes from an authority figure, a god or a monarch or a powerful individual, because then they can just stop asking questions.  Unfortunately, none of those claims are demonstrably true, the only claim that has any evidence behind it is that morals come from us.

The reality remains that all attempts at moral standards, except for one that nobody wants to acknowledge, are based on subjective desires, not objective facts.  The one that nobody wants?  Survival of the fittest, which, while entirely defensible via evolution, makes people uncomfortable when applied to a social setting.  Anything that a human has to come up with is inherently subjective.

In the end, it all comes down to opinion and opinion is largely determined by social indoctrination and upbringing.  People raised in a certain way will largely believe certain things.  People raised in a Christian setting will believe differently than people raised in a Muslim setting, or a Buddhist setting, or a Jainist setting.  People raised in America will think differently than people raised in China or Nigeria or some South Seas island.  People raised with a liberal ideology will have different attitudes than people who are raised with a conservative ideology.  Almost every single one of these different belief systems are going to think that all the rest of them are wrong.  How do we dispassionately determine which, if any of these groups is actually right?  Well, if it’s a matter of facts, the age of the earth, the origins of the universe, it’s not that hard, we can look at the actual evidence and make a determination, but what if it’s not?  What if there is no actually right system?  You can argue that there’s a best system, but your evaluation would be inherently subjective because there’s no universally agreed upon standard for being best.

Let’s look at two opposing systems.  If you take 10 people who believe in Sharia law and 10 people who believe in the Western democratic process, you’re going to get virtually no agreement.  Let’s look particularly at a single point of contention, women’s rights.  The people who agree with Sharia law, be they men or women, are going to agree that women don’t deserve as many, if any, rights as men.  People who believe in Western democracy will disagree.  So how  do you determine which side is actually right?  You’d have to get them all to agree on a common standard, something we all know wouldn’t happen.  While I guess that one side could impose a standard on the other by force, let’s assume that’s not acceptable.  So now what?  Well, as vjack suggested, we could fall back on the idea of “enlightened self-interest”, upon which I would argue that all morality rests and examine the beliefs again.  The people on the Western side would point to equality and fairness and all that, the people on the Sharia side would point to men being in power and their self-interest in keeping the status quo, etc.  Again, you’re not going to get any kind of agreement between the two groups because they are fundamentally coming at the question from diametrically opposed positions.

So does this mean that all positions are equally valid?  It depends on what you mean.  You don’t have to like all moral positions equally, you get to pick and choose based on your personal views and background, but so does everyone else.  You might dislike their system, they might dislike your system, someone else might dislike both systems.  How do we come to a conclusion?  The answer is… we don’t.  Since all of these views are inherently subjective, there’s no way for them to compete in the arena of ideas and come up with a winner.  The unfortunate fact is that it usually comes down to the survival of the strongest and their ability to force others to accede to their ideas via military, economic or political force.  However, I don’t think force is a legitimate means of determining fact.  You don’t get the military forces of science rolling into the capital of Creationismville in their tanks to prove the factual superiority of evolution.  Neither should the forces of Sharia law invade Western democracies militarily to prove the power of their beliefs.  In reality, we’re just left with two opposing sides, neither of which can demonstrate they’re more or less true than the other, which have to find some way to coexist.  Nobody has to like one side over the other, they just have to live with it and perhaps try to bring more people around to their way of thinking.  However, it’s not a moral decision, it’s no more objective than arguing over your favorite flavor of ice cream.

In any case, people need to accept and deal with the fact that human social and moral interaction is often messy and inherently subjective and that there just is no one objectively, factually, demonstrably “correct” system.  It’s all opinion.  That’s just the way it is.

I Get so Tired of Explaining the Word Objective

ob·jec·tive

/əbˈjektiv/
Adjective

(of a person or their judgment) Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

MoralityI must say, I get really, really tired of explaining the meaning of this word to people because it gets tossed around all the time, clearly without any understanding of it’s proper usage.  Today, I was listening to the latest (as of this writing) episode of The Atheist Experience and someone called in to ask about objective morality.  To Matt’s credit, I think he only used the word once, but that was once too many.  He points to his lecture on secular morality, which I’ve addressed before, but I’ll be honest, it really, really grates on me when people want to claim that their system of morality, no matter what it is, is objective.

No it’s not!

In order for a thing to be objective, it must be totally without the influence of individual belief, feelings, opinions, biases or views.  There is nothing in what Matt said, no matter how much I agree with it, that is objective.

It makes me think back to the famous Phillip K. Dick quote:  “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”  That’s because reality exists outside of humanity.  If humanity simply vanished tomorrow, reality would still be here.  Reality is objective.

By the same token, if you want to declare morality objective, it has to follow a similar path.  If humanity went away, would morality still exist?  The answer, of course, is no.  Morality is something that humans made up, like laws and rights.  Without us, or without some intelligent agent, it has no rational meaning.

Matt, however, assigns attributes to morality that spring directly from his emotional desires.  He wants morality to deal with demonstrable harm.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, in fact I think a lot of his subjective ideas about morality are admirable and defensible, just because they’re not objective doesn’t make them any less desirable.

Once we all agree that morality isn’t objective, that everyone has an opinion and that all opinions deserve to be heard, even if many will be rejected, then we can discuss what’s important.  It starts intelligent debate and hopefully, people can come to conclusions based upon that debate.

But if people start declaring that morality is objective, how is it any better than the people that say it was handed down from on high?  That stifles discussion and makes it pointless to try to come to conclusions because everyone already has their own inviolable views.  Once someone says that morality is fixed, that it exists outside of the opinions of humanity, there’s no point in discussing it because the individual has already made it known that they are incapable of changing their mind on the subject.  In fact, if you think about it, that’s exactly why these claims of “objective morality” exist in the first place.  Thinking about these subjects is difficult.  Since most people’s emotional views are the basis of their morality, it’s really impossible to debate them with people who do not share your same emotional and social state.  You get into a lot of “I’m right, so there!” and that’s not conducive to much of anything.  In fact, that’s really why people claim that morality comes from a god or from a king or some other authority figure, because that takes the pressure off of having to validate your own beliefs.  However, there’s a reason that arguments from authority are fallacious, just because someone said something, or you can claim they said something, doesn’t make what they said factually so.  It stifles dissent and quashes questioning, that’s why they do it.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common among supposedly rational people as well, I see atheists doing exactly the same thing about various subjects that theists are guilty of.  People just aren’t willing to examine their own beliefs critically.  We all need to be careful about what we think and believe and desire and be open to constant re-evaluation of our positions in order to sort out objective fact from subjective faith.  There are plenty of times where subjectivity is fine.  You’re free to like chocolate ice cream all you want, so long as you don’t claim that it is objectively better than every other flavor.  Every time you do that, every time you’re willing to claim that your personal views are authoritative, you just make the rest of us in the rationalist community look bad.

Like it or not, we’re just not above the very same rules that we hold theists to.

The Culture Wars

GroupIdentityI understand some people have a very strong emotional need to belong to one group or another and many of them identify with a particular racial, religious or social group for whatever individual reasons they might have.  This even happens with well-known atheists like Richard Dawkins, who self-identifies as a social Catholic,and Jerry Coyne, who self-identifies as a secular Jew.  There are many people in America who self-identify as a variety of hyphenated-nationalities, even if they have never lived in or even visited those locales.  I do understand that all of this happens, I’m just wondering why.

Yes, that means I am asking for a rational reason for what is essentially an emotional action.

Now in Jerry Coyne’s favor, at least the term “Jew” has a number of distinct meanings.  You can be a religious Jew.  You can be a cultural Jew.  You can be a racial Jew.  I suspect the latter more accurately describes Jerry, but I won’t try to put words into his mouth.  I can certainly understand where one could identify as a specific racial group, regardless of what group that might be, even though I personally see little sense in identifying and even less sense in being proud of a particular heritage that is entirely beyond your control.  I’m not proud of having blue eyes, I certainly did nothing to earn that trait, having pride in something you had nothing to do with strikes me as a bit silly, but to each their own, I suppose.  I have yet to have anyone explain to me rationally why one ought to feel good inside for belonging to a group you were born into and had nothing to do with.

I think that even goes for national pride.  We see so many people in America who refer to themselves as hyphenated-Americans.  They are proud to have come from Germany or Poland or Japan or Peru.  Um… why?  If you’re so proud of those countries or of those cultures, why don’t you go live there?  If you go back just a few decades, people came to America because it was the land of freedom and opportunity.  They were proud to become Americans.  Today, it seems like people just want to come here, not to become Americans, but to make some quick cash and then go back to the nation that they really value.

I guess I can sort of understand people who have just come from another nation, who would want to hold on to some aspects of their former culture, at least while making the transition, but for people who have never lived in another country, who have never even visited the nation they claim affinity with, to stick a hyphenated-American label on their forehead seems ridiculous.  Myself, I know that I have German and Norwegian, and probably other things as well, heritage in my background, my great, great, great, great-grandparents came from other countries and adopted America as their home.  However, I feel nothing toward Germany or Norway, neither  did my parents or their parents before them.  We’ve always been Americans.  Full stop.  Granted, I’ve only been to Germany once and never to Norway, but while I was there, I never bothered thinking that somewhere back in history, my ancestors came from there.  So what?

Maybe it’s because I never had that culture to begin with that I reject it.  I was once a Christian.  While I was a Christian, I enjoyed it.  Therefore, should I call myself a Christian-atheist now?  It pays homage to my religiously cultural origins, after all.  Yet I think we’d all agree that’s just an absurd thing to do.  Even if I do enjoy celebrating traditionally Chrisitan holidays, like Christmas and Halloween, although in a wholly secular fashion, even if I do like some Christmas carols and some religious music, I’m not a Christian and I see no point in identifying myself as one, any more than I feel like identifying myself as German or Norwegian or white or having blue-eyes.  Why should I identify myself that way?  Why should anyone?

Oh sure, I think a lot of people do it because it feels good emotionally, but is that a rational reason to do it?  I think not.  People really need to focus on who they are right this minute, not who their ancestors were or where they came from or what accidents of birth you lucked into.  You are you.  Be yourself.  Stop trying to inflate who you are with all of the things around you that are totally beyond your control.  If you’re going to have pride, have it be in accomplishments that you have actually performed.  Be proud of what you do and who you are.  Having pride in something you had no part in is absurd.  Being proud of who you are and what you do keeps us moving forward.  Being proud of something you didn’t do is moving backward.

The human species has had enough moving backwards, it’s time we started striving for the future, not as tiny cultural, racial and religious sub-groups, but as humans, dedicated to a better world for all of humanity.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Thinking FeelingAs everyone knows by now, I’m a very rational person, I’m a “thinker” and not a “feeler”.  This tends to piss off all of the “feelers”, the people who are convinced they have to be intimately and emotionally involved in every situation they come across.  That’s not to say that emotion is never the way to go, certainly there are many, many instances where emotion is clearly applicable, but not every situation.  I get really tired of people whining that you can’t be rational all the time, but refuse to acknowledge that the reverse is also true, you can’t be emotional all the time.

At issue here is the difference between empathy and sympathy.  On the one hand, you have the overly-emotional, the people who empathize with everyone.  They place themselves in the position of everyone else around them, they try to feel what other people are feeling, they feel down when others are sad and elated when others are happy.  They react vicariously through the emotional state of others.  Empathy is a wholly emotional response.

Then you can look at sympathy, which is what I do.  Sympathy is a much more rational response.  It is understanding what another person is going through, it is comprehending their feelings, but not sharing in them yourself.  It always shocks me how many people on the atheist side are empathizers, how, usually outside of their atheism, they simply are not rational in any way, shape or form.  It is even more puzzling to see atheists who are extremely rational and critical in their atheism, they know exactly what is wrong with religion, they know where the evidence leads and they follow it to it’s logical conclusion.  So why does this not apply to other areas of their lives?

I’ve talked before about the bizarre concept that many theists, and unfortunately many atheists, have, that just because someone is rational in one area of their life, that they must automatically be rational in every area of their life.  Theists attempt to use this by listing scientists, usually scientists in the Middle Ages, who were also religious, thus somehow demonstrating that religion is rational?  No, it makes no sense, but when atheists attempt the same thing, by holding up their rational behavior on religion and claiming that somehow rationalizes their emotional behavior on other things, it makes no more sense, yet far too many people fall for it.

There is a reason that we need to differentiate being a skeptic from being skeptical about specific topics.  If you are a skeptic, that means you apply skepticism to every aspect of your life.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t be emotional, where emotions are applicable, it just means that you cannot be an irrational lunatic and think that you’re being a skeptic.  Likewise, simply being skeptical only applies to certain elements of one’s life.  You can be skeptical of religion, but buy into anti-vaccine nonsense, Bigfoot, ancient aliens and be a 9/11 Truther.

Getting back on topic, there are a lot of known and well-understood psychological effects that tend to produce the kind of overly-emotional responses I’ve talked about.  Taking just a handful of them, we find:

Bandwagon Effect – Humans like to go with the crowd and if we’re not careful and cognizant of this fact, we will often follow the crowd to do things we otherwise would not do.  I think this is extremely common in atheism, in fact, when you get a small group of vocal advocates for a position and lots of people “leap on the bandwagon” and buy into the claims made because they don’t want to be “left behind”.

Confirmation Bias – We tend to agree with people who agree with us, if we find ourselves in a group that feels strongly a certain way, even if we don’t feel that strongly, we tend to modify our position to be closer to the group.  It tends to make us feel more comfortable about what we think and more sure that what we think is true.  On the other hand, we tend to reject those people, groups and ideas that make us uncomfortable about our already-existing ideas.  We tend to think they are worse people for rejecting what we think is true, without bothering to find out which position is actually so.  A great example of this is religion.  The religious largely dislike the non-religious, they even dislike people who belong to different religious groups.  Why?  Because it makes them feel uncomfortable that someone can reject the beliefs that they find so valuable.

Current Moment Bias – People tend not to pay too much attention to the future, preferring to focus on the physical and emotional comforts of the immediate moment.  It tends to cause irrational thinking where people will choose what makes them feel good right now, over a long-term plan that improves their overall situation in the future.  For example, there was a study done in 1998 where people were asked to make a grocery menu for the coming week.  74% of participants put fruit at the top of the list.  However, when it came to making a list just for today, 70% put chocolate at the top of the list.  A rational response would be to choose the greater overall good, even if it occurs in the future.  An emotional response is only to think about what makes you feel good right now.

In-group Bias – This is similar to confirmation bias, it deals with the desire to belong to a group and to be accepted by a group.  Often, when joining a group, one’s beliefs and desires will change to reflect the general beliefs and desires of the  group, simply so it is more likely that the group will value their presence and membership.  It is thought that this bias has a lot to do with oxytocin, the chemical in our brains responsible for forming closer bonds with family, friends and loved ones.  Unfortunately, it has a down side, that being it causes people to mistrust people not in their in-group.  We’ve seen this in atheist circles quite recently, with the whole Atheism+ nonsense and the claims that, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”.

Negativity Bias – People have a tendency to pay more attention to bad news than they do to good news.  This is theorized to be a part of our biology, we do not have the ability to examine every bit of information we come across every day so we focus on the bad because we perceive it to be more important and essential to our own survival.  However, it also makes us emphasize the bad and form opinions on the number of bad cases we are cognizant of and not the vast majority of good cases that the brain tends to ignore.  This is common, for example, in the radical feminist movement where they pay attention to all the cases where rape occurs, yet entirely ignore the overwhelming majority of cases where it does not.

Observational Selection Bias – This is the case where people suddenly become aware of a specific thing and then, when they see it everywhere, are convinced that it has become wildly more common.  When you buy a car, you tend to start seeing the same car everywhere you look.  I think this is also common among feminists, especially people who have just started thinking about feminism.  As soon as they are made aware of the claims of sexism, etc., those cases of sexism start appearing everywhere, confirming the original claims.  Of course, the fact is, there are many, many, many more cases where sexism isn’t an issue and the cases where sexism is actually present are not appearing in any greater quantities than they have in the past, in fact, they appear in lesser quantities, the individual just hasn’t paid attention to them in the past.

Post-Purchase Rationalization – This is also known as the Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome, it results when we realize that we have made a bad purchase, or a bad decision, yet we work to rationalize and justify it so that we begin to think it was a great idea all along.  Psychologists tell us that it is a desire to remain consistent and committed to a decision that we have made, to avoid a state of cognitive dissonance.  This becomes applicable when we make bad decisions or buy into irrational ideas, but we refuse to give them up because to do so would mean we were wrong in the first place, so we cling to things that we shouldn’t so we’re not made to feel bad about our decision making process.

Projection Bias – People tend to assume that everyone around them, in fact, everyone everywhere, thinks just like they do.  We are unable to truly get into the heads of other people, therefore it is often the case that people will simply assume that everyone has the same wants, needs and desires as you do.  That’s not necessarily the case though, as I’ve talked about before.  Many atheist women assume that all Muslim women are forced against their will to wear burkas, they hate the fact that they have a lesser standing in Muslim societies, etc.  While that might be true of some, it certainly is not true of all and the idea that we ought to force them to comply with our own culture, feelings and desires really is absurd.

Unfortunately, I can identify all of these in the atheist community, just about everywhere I look.  This is a problem and people need to recognize it as such.  If we are going to claim to be rational people, we need to understand our personal failings and make a move to correct them.  So many atheists are not skeptics, no matter what they claim.  They are simply skeptical of religious claims, and honestly, not much else.  That’s not something to be admired.  It’s not something to be proud of.  It’s a personal failing and personal failings need to be addressed.

Can You Override Your Programming?

prison.jailLast week, I wrote a piece on free will, and predictably, got some hate mail from hardline determinists who wanted to explain how wrong I was and that everything that happens is entirely because of the state of our brain chemistry.  I even had one particularly adamant individual who insisted that, because I don’t buy into absolute determinism, that I can’t possibly accept that sexual preference is genetically determined and therefore, I was one of those gay-haters who think what they do is a choice.

Beyond the absurd nature of the statement, I thought of a good response that ties it all together and since said individual doesn’t seem to want to respond via e-mail, I’ll present it here.

Yes, I think that sexual preference, like many other aspects of human appearance and behavior, is determined in the genes.  A person is attracted to who they are attracted to and shouldn’t be discriminated against because of it.  However, the behavior that goes along with that attraction is entirely under the control of the individual.  A person chooses to have gay sex, just like they choose to have straight sex or any sex at all.  There are certain biological imperatives involved, of course, but we, as humans, have the ability to override our urges and to do, or not to do, things that lower animals might have little, if any control over.

So what’s my point?  The question I asked regarded single-gender prisons and the well-known fact that gay sexual encounters occur there among men and women who, given other options, might never have adopted a gay stance.  So my question is, were those  gay encounters pre-programmed in the brain and if so, where’s your evidence?  We are all sciencey here so we demand more than just bald assertions.  After all, we can look at case studies and find that people who reported never having any attraction to  the same sex before going to prison did engage in gay sex while in prison, but thereafter, never engaged in it again.  There really isn’t any other explanation available other than it being a decision that isn’t programmed in the brain.

So how do the hard-determinists explain it?  I suppose one possible explanation is the common claim that everyone is bi-sexual to some degree or another and they were just exercising their bi-sexuality during the time of limited sexual partner availability.  Of course, the question is, how do you prove that to be the case?  Assuming for a moment that there is neither any evidence of bi-sexuality before the prison term, nor is there any evidence of bi-sexuality after the prison term, where do we get evidence that it magically manifested while they were behind bars?  Isn’t this a sign of free will?

Or how about another example.  Take the Donner Party, where travelers, trapped with no food, turned to cannibalism in order to survive.  Is this something that is pre-programmed in the genes of the individuals involved?  Were they born with the  taste for human flesh and were just waiting for the right opportunity to exercise it?  Yet if they had no free will, how could they have decided to do something that most of us would find morally reprehensible?  It just doesn’t make sense under the arguments I see so often from the determinist side.

What’s just a troubling is the fact that someone will make an objection and when their objection is shown to be false, they will either simply run away, or they will fling some childish insult and then run away.  They will not admit that they were wrong all along.  There are far too many people who pretend to be intellectuals, yet their actions are anything but.