Category Archives: Politics

Paris, Je Vous Aimez!

momo1web

 

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Let’s meme for the win…

Gay Marriage: A Welcome Mess

In the New York Times today there is an article how gay marriages are causing some clergy to opt-out of official state licensing of marriages. Good riddance.

Gay marriage as a singular issue isn’t a big deal to me. It’s been settled in my mind a long, long time ago: of course gays should get married if they want to. It was never even a moral dilemma that I had to struggle with, there was no moment in time when I had to come to that conclusion, it’s been a no-brainer for me from day one. But then, I’m not religious and I don’t revere a holy book that says the following (taken from King James because that’s what I have handy, and for extra dramatic effect of Elizabethan/Jacobean delivery):

First a lovely scene depicting the sexual wickedness of Sodom

Genesis 19:5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

I didn’t continue with the verses directly following this where Lot offered up his virgin daughters to be raped by the men in streets. That’s a story for another day — make sure you bring the children for that story time! But back to the wickedness of gay sex, let’s bookend this lovely Genesis story with something from the New Testament, the much more reasonable Testament:

Jude 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

And if destroying a couple cities in no small part due to gay sex wasn’t a big enough hint that God doesn’t like homosexuality, it is spelled out clearly here:

Leviticus 18:22 Thou Shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

And repeated here in case you missed it, but now of course in case you didn’t get the hint about destroying the cities and clearly stating that homosexuality is an abomination, the penalty is clearly stated in this lovely verse (hint: death):

Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

gay-marriage

Anyway, there are more: there are a few awful passages about it in Romans and elsewhere. But even though it’s fun to quote nasty Bible passages, I bring them up to show that Christians have to come to terms with this sort of thing if they also want to be socially relevant in an age that has long passed up the morality and values contained within scripture.

I say: Christians stick to your guns. Hold onto the Bible as the inerrant word of God and you can continue to marginalize yourselves out of existence in a generation or two. I actually agree with the ministers in this article, they shouldn’t be officiating in any sort of state capacity. Allowing religion to be mixed up with the social contract of marriage all these years is past due for correction. Religious people can continue to have their religious ceremonies and more proper secular values will continue to march forward to include rights for everyone. Let’s correct the mistake of letting religion get involved with the state in the first place. Shame on us for waiting for the issue of gay marriage to right the wrong of churches getting up in our marriage business.

Now, let’s talk about that tax exemption thing while we’re at it…

 

 

 

 

Right/Left Politics Does Not Make Sense

Binary thinking about social, political, and economic issues is such a weird concept to me. I’m continually amazed that people have fallen into this lazy right/left trap. But the American political system which is held hostage by the binary thought of left/right, Democrat/Republican and the politicians that benefit from this thinking would have it no other way.

Social “scientific”* studies about the left/right brain are ubiquitous and commentary from both sides are quick to jump to conclusions about the results. It is unfortunate that social sciences would fall for this binary thinking and actually believe they can study complex social thought (let alone the brain), within this binary framework (meta false dichotomy?).

But perhaps there’s hope that people can drag themselves out of this type of thinking and start realizing that individuals and their place along some faux spectrum is a lot more complex and three-dimensional than anyone gives credit for. Here is an op-ed piece in the NY times that talks about a study that shows (surprise!) that our thinking doesn’t fit nicely into the political boxes that society in general, and political hacks specifically, would like to place us in. The fact that this should be surprising to anyone, especially social scientists, is, well, SURPRISING!

I don’t want to be placed in some box, and thinking should be about right and wrong, not right and left (thanks Anonymous for what I’m hoping will be a political catch phrase in 2016). I’m always surprised people are so willing to throw in with one side or the other, especially when issues are compounded into one left/right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican platform. No thanks, I’ll try and use evidence and reason and take things issue by issue.

*I’m fairly harsh on Sociology and other social “sciences” (I can’t help it, I have to put it in scare quotes!), but done well, they do have value and I always appreciate strong scientific methodology to any field like this. I don’t believe they rise to the level to get to be called big “S” Science, but fields like history, sociology, economics, et. al. I believe are done best when they are done using scientific methodologies. But error bars when coming to any “conclusions” should be very wide, and ideas stemming from these fields should be cautiously presented with the realization that results are always open to much speculation and interpretation. A good policy for all sciences, but especially social sciences.

Rebecca Watson Leaves the SGU: She’ll Be Missed and Good Riddance

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe is a weekly podcast dedicated to skepticism, science, and reason. In my nerdy fever dreams SGU would be the #1 ranked show on radio and television (they would have a TV show in my dreams of course) and everyone at SGU would be world-famous and they would be earning super-star dollars. The show is a team of skeptics headed by uber-skeptic, Steven Novella, and they talk about skeptical/scientific topics.

The show reflects the direction I would love to take my own personal “New World Order”: if everyone had just a little more critical thinking, a little more science education, a little more skepticism in their lives, then we could really get down to business and change the world for the better. If most people took on the the attitudes and values of the panel at SGU, then we could turn the tables of this mess we call a world. I often feel like I don’t need to speak: I could simply have a digital archive I carry around with me, and use a Steve Novella quote in lieu of talking, given that 99.5% of what is said by Steven Novella reflects my positions precisely — and he can always say it better than me anyway.

Someday I will write a blog post about the 0.5% difference (see Jamy Ian Swiss, atheism/skepticism, and tents), but of course today I want to talk about the big news that Rebecca Watson, after nine years, is leaving the show. It was announced yesterday on her blog that she was leaving SGU and her final episode as a skeptical “rogue” was posted to the webs.

Putting it mildly, Rebecca has been a polarizing figure in the atheist/skeptical “community”, sometimes simply due to her brand of witty snark, but more often (and with more vitriol) due to her feminist advocacy. She has one of those personalities that usually either endears her to or repulses her from people. This same love/hate relationship she has among the skeptical/atheist community has been warring inside my own head for years. I like to think that my extremes on any specific issue, makes me an amalgamated centrist, but it probably doesn’t work that way. That’s why Rebecca Watson is so fascinating to me as a barometer for my own views: at any given moment, I’m endeared to Rebecca Watson, and repulsed by her — sometimes simultaneously. Does this constitute a net/net ambivalence toward her? I don’t think so. I think that makes her someone who has that really special ability (especially if one strives to be a public figure) to generate reactions in people — both good and bad. Ambivalence and indifference is death to someone who aims to self-promote.

Rebecca has naturally (and purposefully I believe) had that ability to strike just the right note (or wrong note depending on your perspective), at just the right time, to elicit strong reactions from people from all sides. For Rebecca, I imagine this comes as both a gift (notoriety which can be used for self-promotion) and a curse (notoriety from psychopaths). Elevatorgate had so many ripples through the atheist/skeptical community, I do not think its impact can be overstated. Discussion from her video and her comments afterward were largely or tangentially responsible for a schism that is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. I’m not being flippant when I say this is a real talent. Most people seeking to affect change would give multiple appendages and/or organs to have this ability. I would never say there is a single cause for all the controversies, in-fighting, lashes, and backlashes among skeptics, atheists, feminists, freethinkinkers, etc.; but I would say that where there are such controversies, you don’t need 6 degrees of separation to get to Rebecca Watson – probably just a binary system would suffice.

I don’t want to cop-out and not say specifically where the love falls and where the hate falls in my love/hate relationship with Rebecca Watson. First, I want to make it clear that love/hate is just an expression. I don’t know Rebecca and I want to preface this by saying I like Rebecca as far as it goes. I like her as a public figure, I like her on the SGU and — even though she brings out strong reactions of disagreement in me sometimes — I even like her when I “hate” her. So here are my thoughts for what they’re worth:

Rebecca Watson is a feminist. Rebecca Watson is a Skeptic. Feminism is an ideology. Skepticism is a tool for reasoning. I think that these two can inhabit the same person at the same time, but much like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, depending on how you are looking at a person and their goals and values in any given situation, you can examine either their ideology or their skepticism, but you cannot evaluate ideology and skepticism simultaneously.

This is further complicated because there is no such thing as a universal Platonic ideal of “feminism” or any other ideology. “Feminists” are a group of individuals with individual ideologies loosely coalesced around some nebulous goal concerning women’s rights. For every single “feminist” (I’m using feminism here, but you can insert any ideological position), there is a “feminism” unique to a certain individual that espouses feminist beliefs. In this sense saying “Rebecca Watson has a feminist ideology” is saying something, in that it puts her in a set of people that would advocate for women’s rights, but it still says almost nothing about where she falls on the very broad (if you think I mean that as a pun, shame on you!) spectrum of feminist ideology. In this sense, when we speak of Rebecca’s “feminist ideology” we really can only speak of Rebecca Watson Feminist as a set of one and draw no further conclusions about what her feminist advocacy entails.

I say all this to make two points:

1) A person’s ideology can (should) be instructed by their skepticism, but belief is antithetical to skepticism. We need beliefs to “put on pants” and go out and live our lives, and sometimes our beliefs bring us to adopt certain ideologies. At this point, we are hopefully still using skepticism to continually inform our beliefs, but the action of advocacy necessitates leaving a skeptical mindset. Ideology involves positive momentum, and skepticism by definition is an exercise in doubt and irreducibility. Even though groups like SGU try to sneak in science and reason as part of the definition of modern skepticism, this is only a practical move to be able to engage in meta-skepticism which allows advocacy under the name “skepticism”. The statement, “skepticism is the best tool to obtain logic and reason”, is itself an ideological position, but a necessary axiom to be able to “put on pants”.

2) I believe that Rebecca Watson’s ideological feminism has become more important to her than her skepticism. Or, I suppose put a better way, feminism and her ideology are apparently driving her more than skepticism. Put even a better way, I suppose that it appears to me this is the case.  But I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. But I also actually don’t have a problem with her shifting her focus from skepticism and into feminism. I support all forms of feminism — even if I disagree with some of the individual expressions of feminism — because at its core, feminism shares my goal of making women equal in value and force in society (if not giving women a greater role!). I believe that the world is inherently better when women are given a full voice. I do believe that some forms of radical feminism are irrational and illogical and taken to their logical conclusion would be highly detrimental to society — but I still find value to that: it shifts the center and makes rational, progressive feminist arguments seem tame and much more digestible to the general public. We need people to kick down the door whether or not they are being reasonable. I don’t believe Rebecca is always being reasonable when it comes to feminism, but I also don’t really care. Go after it! I don’t think Rebecca leaving SGU and throwing in with ideology is necessarily a bad thing, nor is it necessary for her to choose one or the other. I think she could continue to juggle the two, but unlike some of the Social Justice Warriors, I don’t believe one entails the other. So if it makes sense for Rebecca to focus on one over the other, I fully support the decision.

Finally, I’ll mention some specific points of disagreement with Rebecca’s actions over the years, as I believe these are examples in support of my position that she is more ideologically driven these days as opposed to skeptically driven. Again, I’d like to preface this by saying that for the most part (and certainly in relation the general public) Rebecca Watson is a thoughtful, reasonable person, but I believe she has moved away from the skeptical movement and toward feminist ideology in her advocacy. Perhaps that is necessary. Rhetoric really is effective even if it is seemingly contrary to skepticism.

  • I do not think calling D.J. Grothe a “monster” is reasonable.
  • I tend to think that there is something to what  Abbie Smith and Stef McGraw said on the way Rebecca Watson behaved.
  • I think her ideology causes her to have a blind spot for sussing out real hatred for women from people merely criticizing her views or behavior.
  • I disagree with her specifically about her advocacy for conference policies, and generally about the infantilization of women that these types of policies promote.
  • I think the paradox of using the term “privilege”,  is that only people with “privilege” would think of using the term “privilege”. Also, “privilege” is almost always used as an ad hominem and I have yet to hear any actual analysis of how one would determine a scale of privilege or how we could possibly use it as an evaluation tool of fairness or justice.
  • Speaking of privilege, I think Rebecca Watson et. al. use only the most uncharitable interpretation of their opponent’s positions.
  • I think she overreacted and made an enemy of Richard Dawkins.
  • I also think that the high maintenance monitoring of commentary at Skepchick is more ideologically driven, than skeptically driven. I think ideology has put her (perhaps necessarily) in an “us vs. them” situation, where dissent is not acceptable.
  • I don’t think she is necessarily a hypocrite for the nudy Skepchick calendar and her current feminist positions – anyone can grow and change positions – but I do believe it is hypocritical for her to so harshly judge those that don’t share her current positions.
  • I think there was something really off-putting about her sock-puppeting behavior at the JREF forums – if not completely nefarious, then her actions were certainly self-serving.
  • Boycotting TAM was another overreaction, and attacking DJ Grothe during that time seemed pretty out there, and maligning him seemed uncalled for.

A lot of these examples of Rebecca’s behavior over the years seem ideologically driven and not those of a skeptic. Which is okay, I don’t point out these things to vilify her, but I also think that ideologues should not be so quick to condemn people with a “you are either for us or against us” attitude, because they will find their own behaviors reflected back from their perceived enemies. We all make mistakes, but one of the worst attributes of bad ideology is giving harbor to bad behavior for those who agree with you and viciously attacking those who disagree with you for the exact same behavior. This is where critical thinking goes out the window in favor of ideology, and I think Rebecca has engaged in this from time to time.

But I also think that there is much more overlap in mine and Rebecca Watson’s worldview than not. I simply think that she has chosen to focus more strongly on certain parts of her advocacy than skepticism in the past several years and I compliment and encourage her effort — even if I don’t always agree with it. I do think it is time she moved on from the SGU, because while I don’t think she has left skepticism, I do believe she has drifted in her advocacy focus over the years toward socio-political ideology. SGU has clear, stated goals of scientific-skeptical advocacy and education. These goals are antithetical to political movements and they are apolitical, sometimes to the degree of annoyance of some listeners. I think Rebecca struggled with her desire to be an ideological/political advocate and the role she had on SGU.

In the end I hope it works out great for everyone. I hope Rebecca continues to find her socio-political voice and affects the change she desires, and I hope SGU continues to kick ass. I will put in my two cents here and say that Rebecca needs to be replaced by not one, but two women (or three, or four). Perhaps it “shouldn’t matter” if they replace her with women or not, but I say it does. I think more women voices everywhere are called for and until women are equally represented, I see no reason not to specifically seek them out for vital roles. I think female voices make everything stronger. Give credit where credit is due, Rebecca made SGU stronger. She made it stronger from a production standpoint, and she made it stronger by growing the audience. It was in no small part because she had a different voice, and different voices usually complement more than they detract.

So, good luck Rebecca and “so long” and hopefully it’s “good riddance” from the perspective of both you and SGU.

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As I’ve stated before, and I will undoubtedly state again, I’m a hack blogger, not an “author” or “journalist” and as such, I’m pretty lazy about sourcing. I just write opinions in this online diary rant, so I don’t feel overly compelled to meticulously source everything I say. I do what I can, but this is just a hobby that hopefully puts my voice out there to whatever degree it matters (probably none). That being said, here is a list of sources (by no means exhaustive) of background information relevant to this post.

  • Rebecca’s Blog Site
  • Richard Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” letter in response to Elevatorgate, contained in the following link:
  • Rebecca’s Response to Dear Muslima
  • Site dedicated to crushing all things Rebecca. Example of love her or hate her, she creates sparks.
  • Another article not particularly in the pro-Watson camp
  • Freethought blogs (pro-feminism) and Slymepit (anti-feminism). Not equating these two places, simply showing where you can get what I think are extreme views on either side of the feminist schism within skepticism. Slymepit came out of a thread from Abbie Smith’s ERV site who I really like. She seems to have disappeared from the fray and is actually doing real science. Damn you Abbie for eschewing drama and actually working. In the end I think both sides are right and both sides are wrong. That doesn’t make me a fence sitter, given any specific topic or question I will have an opinion one way or the other, those individual opinions just so happen to agree with parts of one side and parts of the other.
  • You can also check out Freethought blogs to get a healthy dose of Atheism+, a group that represents my point about once advocacy kicks in, one has adopted an ideology and left skepticism. As a matter of fact PZ Myers did just that: he turned in his skepticism card, and I believe rightfully so given his values as a Social Justice Warrior.
  • Here’s a good primer on Atheism+ written by Richard Carrier. Atheism+ which has much overlap feminism and is a movement that in no small part is due directly and indirectly to elevatorgate and the fallout afterwards. This article can also serve as a rabbit hole for links and a history of Atheism+ and SJW. Like with most players in this theater, I like Richard Carrier, but also simultaneously find him to be an arrogant twit. Unlike, much of the A+ crowd, I can like and respect a person, but disagree (sometimes respectfully, sometimes not), without banishing them. I enjoy Richard’s books, but find him rigid, dogmatic, smug, and arrogant in much of his public persona. But so what? If we had to approve of and like 100% everyone’s thoughts and actions to be able to share space with them, then no one would like anyone. Judgment to this degree is for religious zealots, and I left religion in part because I value everyone, even if I disagree with them, even if I despise their views. At its root, I cannot support these movements because I believe ultimately they 1) undermine their own goals by excluding people that could be their allies (not an accommodationist argument!) 2) They don’t want people like me in their movement, so I respect their decision to exclude me. 3) While their goals actually reflect mine very closely, we disagree on fundamental definitions of what “feminism”, “atheism”, “justice”, and “fairness” are and also the best way to achieve the similar goals we have.

There are many, many more links, but if you pull the thread a little of any of the above links, you’ll be able to go down a rabbit hole that could entertain and/or repulse you for weeks.

In the end, I support everyone who uses skepticism as a foundation to inform their lives and ideologies even if I disagree with their conclusions. I believe that’s okay. Politics, social policy, fairness, justice, and other human constructs are instructed by individual values and no one has an objective claim to the ultimate answer. That’s reserved for the religious and for extreme ideologues, not skeptics. I believe some ideologies are abhorrent, but individual people rarely are.

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Get Communism

I mean, I get what it is so far as you can understand a moving target. Like with any other ideology, it seems there are as many forms of communism as there are communists. I simply mean – I don’t get the appeal of communism. On its face it doesn’t seem to make sense as a system in our current times.

marxLennon2

I get communism in the 19th century. I get why Marx’ powerful ideas about the control of the capital by very few caused atrocious human rights conditions. The debasement of workers globally during the industrial age needed a voice – a strong voice – to swing the economic pendulum at least a tick in the direction of the laborers. So, I suppose I get communism as an advocacy movement, but I don’t get it as a state or governmental institution.

Communism as governmental policy, to me, seems antithetical to what the spirit of communism is actually about – giving resources and power to the people. This has always been the problem with communism: that it does not translate from a cultural, grassroots, ideological movement into governmental policy. Somewhere in that journey it goes from a necessary liberal voice of the people and turns into right-wing ideological suppression machine.

Yes, I said that, communism as a state policy is completely right wing, as much as the terms left/right mean anything politically. Never has the “old boss is the new boss” cliche ever been so apt as when a group of leftist radicals in the name of communism turn into right wing ideologues stepping on the same people they purported to to be advocates for. It seems rather self-evident that communism is a right wing ideology once it’s institutionalized, but I never hear it condemned as such from the left.

Communism finds itself in this Catch-22 because to have common property among the people, there has to be a mechanism to distribute and control such property. By definition, if that mechanism is the state, then there is longer an even distribution that communism seeks, because the value of power can’t be overlooked in the distribution of property. Control from the state level inherently forces a secession of power from the people to the state as it controls and distributes common stock which is supposedly owned by the people. Once this move is made then the communist ideal crumbles in practice. Not only does the equal distribution ideal disappear, but the people find themselves in less of a power situation than when they started!

Communism has been a valuable tool for conscious raising on socioeconomic issues, and has, at its best, politically fought for human rights. But it is effective as only that: a tool to keep the powers in check. Once communism becomes the power structure itself, the whole ideological purpose reverses itself and the people no longer have advocacy against the state. The communist states cannot be omniscient in the complexities of economics nor what constitutes “fairness” or “justice” from the top down. It’s absurd on its face to think that a minority of people in the power at the top can properly distribute property and the idea that this is possible has been proven to be miserable time and time again in practice.

State Communism seems to suffer from two inescapable faults I abhor as someone who is pro critical thinking, skepticism, and anti-ideology and anti-totalitarianism: 1) There is no mechanism for distribution of property in communism and so the state claims itself as the final solution with the knowledge of what is “fair” and “good” and “just” for all. This is untenable and disastrous in practice.  2) Instead of empowering people – which I think is a maximally worthy ideal – communism robs people of power and freedom because of the inherent problem with converting from a social theory to state control.

Here in the U.S. we do not live in a libertarian situation – what I would consider the communist inverse. We are not purely capitalistic, we are not purely anything. There is a hodgepodge of governmental structure that makes a complex system that pushes and pulls over time. Over the last century and a half communism has effectively crept in to how the U.S. government functions. In this sense we are quasi-communist in nature and the ideological victories of communism are seen in practice every day in our labor laws, our shared investment in public education and public works, and in our welfare and social programs. The communist ideal is alive and well in our country, but try and keep that under wraps because communism is a nasty word around here.

Despite my vilification of communism as a state practice, I value it as a social tool that should be continually advocating for workers’ rights and all human rights, and we effectively have many shades of communism running through our current system. I say, keep communism as a strong tool and principle for the people while keeping it far away from a state institution which will inevitably lead to less freedom and totalitarianism.

Looking forward to those Cuban cigars…

Marriage: A Social Institution (For Some)

CFI

Here’s the press release from CFI about a stunning loss for atheists and their rights in how they get married. Not only is this case right in my backyard, but it is exactly the kind of reason why I decided to “get involved” in the atheist/skeptical community: we need social and political presence in this country.

I won’t give a summary of the case at hand in my blog, you can read much better summaries and analysis from the press release above or from someone like Reba Boyd (the director of CFI – Indianapolis). I just like to step in a and set down markers when freedoms are abridged to make the case for organization and community.

I was talking with Reba  last month when I attended a talk at CFI Indiana. The topic of the conversation was how to attach a value to gatherings that CFI always promotes and establishing a community around certain ideals. Again, the herding cats problem. This latest court case loss is an exact example of why organizations need to exist: because without national organizations like CFI and FFRF, there would be absolutely no way to fight these battles. Individuals simply cannot do it. Only numbers and resource can do it. A multi-pronged approach is necessary to battle this kind of idiocy. In addition to blogging, facebooking, and website organization, organizations like CFI and FFRF are in there going toe to toe with organizations that are much more well funded by orders of magnitude.

You might think conferences, gatherings, lectures, organizations are too costly, but please try and remember that every time our freedoms are abridged by the theistic politicians and judiciary. Those costs are far greater than the pittance the organizations that are fighting the good fight are asking for in donations or attendance costs. Don’t have the cash? Yeah, I hear ya, there’s never enough to go around. Human resource is more valuable than gold. Power to the people!

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