Archives for category: Adventures in Equine Pugilism

Well, you’re partially right. Christianity is only a general term that is inclusive of all non-Jewish, non-Islamic Abrahamic religions. One is a “Christian” if one is a follower of Christ. In that sense it could be a philosophy without being a religion, but ONLY if you do not hold any beliefs not based on evidence and hold no supernatural beliefs with regard to the nature, purpose, and cause of the universe.

You’re *almost* right. Religion is just philosophy that has hardened into dogma–so all religion is philosophy, and indeed much philosophy is religion. However, there is a difference that clearly demarcates the difference.

A philosophy is a manner of mentally modeling reality. It’s not so much a thing as it is a process; so for example a philosophical Christian would start with the things Jesus was reputed to have said and examine them and try to clarify the model of reality so presented, and try to act increasingly as an exemplar of those characteristics.

Hold onto your hats; we’re about to go into dangerous waters here. Now Christianity for example, is a larger blanket term representative of an infinite and fractally nested set of sub-sects, each of which interprets things differently and acts differently because the other data they have is different and the only commonality relates back to the notion of a person named Jesus. It is easier, however, for you to say, “I am a Christian” and stop thinking than it is to do the hard work of pinning down exactly what that means, then figuring out how to put it into practice and express it to others. So the term, “Christian” is useless except as a starting point.

The tricky part is that because philosophy is just a $5 word for “method of looking at information and the associated processes that allow you to do something with that mental map” we lose track of the fact that it is possible to have MULTIPLE philosophical positions simultaneously.

For example, I am an agnostic atheist and a skeptic. This means that while I do not claim to know there is no god and are no gods as an absolute (agnostic modifier), neither have I seen any evidence for their existence, therefore I do not hold a positive belief in them (atheism) AND I will demand evidence in proportion to the degree to which a claim runs contrary to my mental model of reality (skeptic).

Sit down, and keep your socks on, this might blow them off: it is actually possible to be a Christian, an agnostic atheist, and a skeptic all at the same time, if we are strictly confining the term “Christian” to mean “person who attempts to use the putative words of the supposed Jesus as a basis for moral judgments” because for example, when we read that ‘Jesus’ said to “love one another”–one can agree on a philosophical level that affection for others on a generalized level will tend to lead to increased cooperation and other related benefits while also not believing that there is a creator God.

The trouble we run into is that “Christian” doesn’t actually mean that in common use. It means a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus (zero evidence) which means there is a creator God (zero evidence) who judges us (no evidence) and possesses certain qualities (effectively no evidence). The line of demarcation in philosophy that defines “religion” is just that: claims about the fundamental nature of reality including claims about the cause and purpose that are based on zero replicable evidence.

Essentially philosophy is the name for the study of systems of human thought. Religion is the side that explores human dreams, emotions, and desires without caring about what is actually true–the goal of religion is to fabricate a framework that allows us to ground our emotions, irrespective of objective reality. Science is the side of philosophy that deals with objective reality and cares about what is true, where “true” means, “what is observable”. Science cares about things being replicable, logical, and useful.

I might then say that you are religious and non-skeptical, because you care more about retaining the sense of being grounded, you care about justifying your feelings but not about what is true. The trouble of course is that because we are human, we all have something of both sides in us–you don’t EXCLUSIVELY care about your feelings, reality does poke its head in to see you occasionally. Same for me, I occasionally do wish things were different than they are. The difference comes from the preponderance of action and thought.

In general, humans only accept things into their mental model if those things reinforce that mental model. If this was not how it operated, we would not be able to model behaviors and make useful predictions. Our brains are constantly on the lookout for coincidences that we can causally link to events and actions. Unfortunately this causes many humans to mistake correlation for causation. E.g. People who are on fire tend to be running around and screaming; ergo running around and screaming must cause people to be on fire. I choose the example specifically to expose the cognitive mechanism while being ridiculous enough to not convince you.

If for example you lost your keys, prayed to find them, and then found them, you might conclude that God answered your prayer and helped you find your keys. Judging by thousands of years of objective evidence this cannot really be the case, even judging by the evidence of the past 10 minutes worldwide it can’t be the case. It is a cognitive mistake because your brain, always helpfully searching for causal links, has mistaken correlation for causation. In effect, the cause of the prayer was your own distress, and you looking for your keys was the cause of finding them. When we give up–frequently correlated with the prayer–we let go of the temporary mental model we had of the area and we very often find our keys!

It has nothing to do with the prayer except that the two are correlated. Experimentally, we can find that if we are convinced we have searched in a location, we will exclude that location from our search. Upon giving up (correlated with prayer) we let go of that mental model and begin to address reality. So when someone says, “let go and let God” what they actually mean in real terms is, “drop the flawed model and address reality”.

Religion is exclusively formed from these flawed models. It is why religion is, “fossilized” philosophy–because a religious worldview insists on ignoring data that doesn’t fit the model. In the case of Abrahamic monotheists–Jews, Sunni, Shiite, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Pentacostals, etc etc etc–each took a book of allegories and fables written in the Bronze Age and have fossilized it into their own particular flavor of dogma.

“Christianity” as a broad category is laughably simplistic and stupid. Not because “Christians” are bad, unintelligent, or stupid–but because they are attempting to address reality with flawed data and receive constant reinforcement which attempts to prevent them from altering their mental model to a closer congruence with observable reality. Why do you think religion requires faith and belief?

Any philosophy that requires faith or belief is a religion and must be excluded from the government because it cannot be traced back to objective evidence and therefore cannot be agreed upon by everyone. Only things that can be universally agreed upon belong in government. Ergo, religion-which by definition REQUIRES faith–has absolutely no place in government.

(Look at the constant fight theists put up attempting to legitimize young Earth creationism and “intelligent design”–theists manufacture false controversy because it is the only way they can continue to pretend that their fossilized dogma has any relevance or truth to it.)

As a person who is present to some extent in modern social media, I find that I am exposed daily to an unhealthy dose of bad advice from apparently well-meaning but deeply confused people who want so desperately to be right that they are willing to sacrifice truth to their hunger for the feeling of certainty. One of the more insidious forms of this offense begins with an admonition to “think for yourself.” There is nothing inherently wrong with this advice. It might actually be one of the best pieces of advice one can give, but a number of hideous flaws can creep silently in hiding in its shadow if we are not cautious. The most egregious and abhorrently poisonous of these wretched little gremlins is the notion that doing one’s thinking in a vacuum is the only–or perhaps worse, the best–way to go about the task of figuring things out.

The title of this piece is intended to provide an unequivocal demonstration of why this method is not only disastrously stupid, but so easily repudiated that anyone who cares to can do so inside of a minute or two. Masturbation is an intrinsically solipsistic sort of activity: you need only your brain, your hands, and whatever plumbing nature has supplied you with to conduct it. I will for the moment dismiss the exception of fetishists who require something of outside manufacture to reach a satisfactory level of excitement; it is possible at least in theory for those persons to either substitute sufficient imagination or manufacture the necessary adjuncts themselves which leaves us back at our starting point. The point to be taken away from this is that masturbation does not inherently require a second sentient being, and while it does co-opt the use of various mental circuitry related to reproduction, it does not constitute a functional replication of the reproductive process.

In other words, you are never going to have a baby no matter how much you masturbate. Barring incredibly rare abnormalities like Turner’s Syndrome, you will never be able to become pregnant (especially if you have an XY phenotype body) in the absence of another human sentient. In any case, that sort of exception is physiologically unrelated to masturbation and so even that would not disprove the example. The long and the short of this is that if you attempted to “reproduce for yourself” in the absence of another human, you could spend as long as your heart desired at it without the effort contributing to your goal in the slightest. You may have a fantastic relationship with Rosy Palm and her five sisters, but none of them are going to be your baby daddy, sorry.

It is in precisely the same way that “thinking for yourself” in the absence of evidence will get you nothing aside from a warm, fuzzy feeling. If that is all you are after, allow me to refer you to the former example as it will allow you to obtain that result with significantly more regularity. Merely “citing your thoughts” is mental masturbation. You may always share your thoughts, but as soon as any of them purport to be representative of anything outside your opinion, you may have begun to waggle your intellectual wang, (or started “bluffin’ with your cranial muffin”,) in a most embarrassing manner. Do have a care for any impressionable people who might be exposed to your intellectually indecent exposure.

To get a bit more into the nuts and bolts, when we say, “think for yourself” honestly what we mean is, “examine the evidence for yourself and come to a conclusion that is not biased by another person’s assumptions.” The phrase presupposes that not only is the evidence available in full, but that the recipient is interested in perusing it and constructing his or her own theory to explain it. Or at least examining the available explanations and selecting the one from the source he or she judges to be most likely to be correct. Even the latter method is rife with peril if it is not accompanied by a basic understanding of reality, some fact-checking, and a firm conviction that truth is preferable to comforting sophistry.

I will be blunt: anyone who tells you to rely on your own thoughts and feelings to the exclusion of evidence, skepticism, and communication/cross-checking with other people, that person is either a contemptible lout or a lunatic and more than likely wants to sell you something, be it a used car, a religion, or the dubious privilege of his presence between your thighs for as long as it takes him to do his business. Thought without evidence or logic is like sperm without an egg or a womb and it will get you just as close to producing truth as the latter will to producing a baby.

No matter how many people you get to agree with you that it is otherwise, the facts will remain the facts. So when you say, “think for yourself” you had better bloody well mean it and the rest of you who gobble up that vacuous piffle in the spirit in which it was intended, cut that shit out before civilization collapses beneath your vacant and incurious bulk.

Ille equus mortuus percussus est.


This began as an attempt to answer a single comment, but has grown a tad too large to reasonably fit there. SSS will return next Sunday, I promise. Please see the article and Reading Writer‘s first and second comments, as well as the response from CUNY Comp. Instructor.
When one notes the benefits of, “writing across the curriculum” it is critically important to note that these benefits are possible only because such a widespread impetus to write more often and more effectively is *extra*. Consider it the language arts version of taking vitamins. If you reduce someone’s diet to 800 calories a day and then suggest that we ought to look at taking vitamins as making up for it, you will receive the same bemused response from a dietician that you have heard from the CUNY composition instructors. In short: if we try to replace basic fundamentals with measures that were always intended to supplement those basics–we are going to run into huge problems in astonishingly short order.

Just to start with, the instructors in other departments likely have neither the training or the motivation to hold student work to the same minimum necessary standard, because their own education and efforts are focused on their own subject. Further, they are more likely to care primarily about getting students to grasp the topic they are teaching, which is difficult enough to do with native speakers with a vice-like grasp of general English and a decade or more of background in academic English.
I doubt very much that any instructor has even the barest fraction of a desire to hold any student back from the pursuit of learning about something they are interested in, no matter their language level. It is, again, a structural issue. If someone who is incapable of understanding the coursework and further is not capable of demonstrating mastery of the concepts because of communication problems, the result is a horrific bottleneck that the ‘streamlining’ only worsens. Giving instructors less time and less resources to do a tougher job with a wider variance in student ability and expecting it to work out because it looks pretty in Excel is not merely unwise but actively stupid, and destructive to the goal of any educational institution. Especially one whose responsibility is to students who rely on it to help make up for the opportunities they were denied in their youth.

To be a little more specific, this ‘streamlining’ attempts to get instructors to teach something they do not specialize in to people who do not necessarily understand the instruction and if they do, are not necessarily capable of proving that they are, in fact, learning with any degree of efficiency. The result is to force instructors to spend less of their time teaching–that is, less time preparing students to succeed in the modern economy–and proportionately more time providing remedial education that the instructors are not necessarily trained to provide; all while inside the context of a system where classroom time and supporting resources are steadily shrinking.

The result is that everyone loses. The professor has done a disservice to students by not conducting as thorough and informative a course as possible. The students who are at the minimum standard or beyond it are paying for their time to be wasted watching people play catch-up, and the people who are forced by circumstances that are more than likely not their fault to begin with to play catch-up are paying to play catch up in an environment not necessarily well-suited to maximizing their gains in performance and understanding. Everyone has less time, and spends less of that time doing what they intended to do.

The point is not, as you seem to think, “holding them back” until their ability is “where we would like it to be” but rather wasting as little time as possible in getting students who are operating at a disadvantage up out of the hole and maximizing their potential. No serious teacher at any level believes that an ESOL student is any less intelligent than a student who happens to speak English natively; the belief is that ESOL students are better served by a dynamic network of instructors and classes designed specifically to identify where they are on the path, help them move along it as rapidly as possible with targeted and specific instruction, and let them skip any steps along the way that their out-of-class experience has made redundant.

In short: they do deserve content, and they deserve people who care about getting it to them in a timely manner that respects their personal challenges and abilities. Simply tossing an ESOL student into the deep end and expecting it to work every time without involving the rest of the student body or instructional cadre is nonsensical. If anything, the answer is a series of partial-credit remedial courses designed with the express intent of using teamwork between ESOL students to promote confidence, communication, and learning and to replicate the content present in entry-level courses in a more measured way focused on developing subject-specific English comprehension and a grasp of fundamentals.*

Sadly, this sort of thing benefits students and massively increases efficiency; but alas, it is not conducive to maximizing profits. Ille equus mortuus percussus est.


*Obviously this is not my specific field, so I suppose I could be wrong.

I thought rather long and hard for an acceptable title, and it finally boiled down to the one you see for a very good reason. You see, I want you to treat me like I am gay, or black, or Latino, or poor. All at once. Preferably while also thinking of me as white, cisgendered, heteronormative, and socially acceptable.

Here I will spare a moment for the postmodernists, confused feminists, and bigots of all stripes: I do not care for the privilege or oppression that you want to give me based on accidents of neurochemistry, genotype/allele frequency, or cultural nurture. I care neither for your hatred of ‘faggots’ and ‘dykes’ or for your loathing of ‘kikes’ or ‘niggers’. Certainly I care nothing for the nearly insensate babble of moral relativists or the self-satisfied and myopic wailing of certain racialists and feminists about privilege and invisible knapsacks.*

The fact of the matter is that yes, a large amount of work is necessary to understand the origins of racial privilege, gender privilege, and so on; but I find that those concerned with these things frequently spend what seems to me to be entirely too much effort chasing their own tails in self-justification. The point to be made from these studies is that our human brains, while extremely impressive in many respects, suffer from some adaptations that were useful in the past, but are now useful only if we deliberately co-opt them for our own purposes.

In short, human brains spend a great deal of energy typifying things and attempting to locate our own position within that constructed space. This constructed space is exactly that: an artificial model that we use as a tool to provide ourselves the ability interface with reality. This sort of unconscious process is very useful to a primate species whose greatest strength is its ability to form complex and sophisticated social structures in the interest of accomplishing things that a single homo sapiens cannot hope to do by itself.

The distinctions created seem palpable to us because our neurochemistry requires ‘hooks’ to control our behavior. Thus we have feelings that are related to these distinctions, and this helps us in many ways. We do not try to team up with lions to hunt or trees to build in the same way we team up with other humans precisely because our brains contain the means to draw distinctions between “us” and “them.” This is where the trouble begins, and why I say to you: treat me like I’m not in the fuzzy and safe categories you have drawn up for yourself, however unconsciously.

It is critically important both to the advancement of human civilization and to our personal morality that we understand the reality of this process. At the most basic level, the only way to ensure we act in a morally sound way is to take command of this mental mechanism and bend it into a coherent shape through long and arduous effort. This is damnably uncomfortable, which explains easily and rather thoroughly why prejudice is alive and well in the modern era. I would challenge you then, to take responsibility for your mind, its mechanisms and contents, and begin to work at chipping away at those opinions of yours which formed under the supervision of apathy and in the service of expedience.

So to return to my original request, we must accept that others will never be identical to us, and that this does not automatically mean that they are of lesser merit. I wish you to treat me as though I were gay predicated on the assumption that you dislike or are made uncomfortable by the idea that two penis-bearers can give one another sexual pleasure. I wish you to treat me as though I were straight predicated on the assumption that you distrust people whose own preferences run in the direction of penis and vagina, if only due to past experience of prejudicial treatment.

I wish you to think of me as black if you look at people with dark skin who are of historically recent African descent as inferior. I ask that you think of me as Caucasian if you feel oppressed by people who are white. Just the same I want you to think of me as Latin, Asian, as a Pacific Islander, as an aboriginal native of any continent, or as a mixed-breed. In the interest of avoiding the derailment of my point into an endless enumeration of the infinity of possible distinctions, I challenge you to think of me as whatever and whomever you dislike.

In the end I remain confident that while you might not have any liking for me as a person, you will at least be forced to respect my insistence on occupying whatever divisions you have assigned negative emotional responses to categorically and in the absence of rational and evidential thinking. Please note that this differs from say, insisting that you think of me as a murderer or a child molester because we can draw some relatively clear distinctions about that group and provide clear evidence that can be woven into a coherent objection to those practices.

Without getting too far off topic, let me say that the group “murderers” are persons who deprive others of life for reasons that do not include the preservation of liberty and life in a substantive way. We can similarly say that the group, “child molesters” can be defined as persons who knowingly and willfully expose those too young to understand or defend themselves to hurtful touch not conducive to their current or future well-being. Quite simply the difference between these groups and say, homosexuals or persons of a differing skin color is that while the former can be defined by action and judged by the results of their actions, the latter cannot.

I am fully aware that this is a subject that, if bitten off, would not easily succumb to the jaws of this particular piece of writing. However, I maintain that we can draw further distinction and provide at least the tentative sketch of a defense by examining the way in which we assign labels. A murderer or child molester, for example, is so called because they have committed murder or molested a child. They have been labeled not because of their passive traits but because of their willful and chosen actions. There is no simple way to call someone a murderer before the act takes place–by definition referring to someone as a murderer means that they have already, in fact, committed murder.

By contrast, a person who has XY chromosomes and a phenotypically normative development who happens to be sexually attracted to other phenotypically normative individuals with XY chromosomes need only be so attracted to be gay. In precisely the same way, a person whose skin reflects light of a certain general wavelength in the visible band need only emit light in such a way to be called black, white, brown, or even nearly endless gradations within each single color label. It is a fact with its origins in their existence and not in their willed actions.

In brief summary: a gay man has sex with another man because he is gay; he is not gay because he has sex with another man. A person is black not because she deliberately chooses to actuate the biochemical reactions her body uses to produce melanin, but because she happens to have skin containing an amount of melanin that is relatively greater than some other portions of the human population. Our brains are not well suited to drawing these distinctions as a matter of course, so it falls to us to put forward the effort to draw them ourselves as a willed act.

Therefore judge people, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “by the quality of their character”–by their willed actions, and not by your mind’s instinctive schemata. Be suspicious especially of those judgments that seem most right and good; pull aside the cloak and examine the foundations, lest you find that your entire constructed view of reality has been resting on sand, sophistry, and somnolence in the mind’s faculty for reason. We have had quite enough time spent on that method in the history of our species, and while I cannot speak for you, I personally would rather it be gently but firmly shown the way out of human thought.

I am not you, and neither is anyone else. Get over it, but until you do: treat me as though I was those things you despise for no reason. At the least, I will be able to see something of who you choose to be, and in seeing can make meaningful decisions about your tentative placement in my own constructed reality.

Ille equus mortuus percussus est.


*I suppose this had better be the topic of another post, because wish to banish any possibility of being misinterpreted: I am firmly and insuperably egalitarian in principle, to include all positions along sexual, gender, skin color, financial, social, and political and related spectrums.