Archives for posts with tag: contrapology

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.

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Part 2:Well then, what now?

(Read Part 1 here, a short essay on the aftermath of 9/11/01)

If I may, I would like to preempt the criticism that might be brought to bear against what I said in, “Remember, But Be Thorough” by reminding readers that the first step in solving a problem is becoming aware that it exists. Unless some form of heretofore unknown prescience lurks in the gene pool of homo sapiens and an equally unknown capacity to come to infallibly functional and comprehensible conclusions does likewise, it would seem that our particular branch of the primate tree is inextricably bound to do things the hard way. Fortunately for us, we have evolved to the point where the disinterested universe and its wasteful and bloodily meandering cycles of reproduction no longer represent the only available route.

In the absence of a proven superior method, the arduous and time-consuming work of figuring out how to move ourselves forward falls to humans. The first task that must be undertaken is figuring out what we ought to want. After that, we must ascertain the limitations reality places on our ideal. Lastly, we must apply ourselves in the task of making the two intersect, focusing our attention primarily on working to find ways to bend the latter in the direction of the former in spite if the difficulty of that path and the beguiling artlessness and ultimate futility of its antithesis.

In the end it will remain more effective to wrestle cultural and social reality into confluence with our commonly professed morality than to enlist ourselves into an endless succession of conflicts fought within the microcosm of the individual while armed only with the clumsy instruments of governance. Leave the transformation and salvation of the souls of man to those who are content to profess a belief in them, and spend our limited resources in the pursuit of those goods which are detectable and demonstrably extant in the reality we share.

It is the position of myself, and I daresay all secular humanists, that the result of spending of $100 to save the life of a child from preventable illness is superior to that of $100 spent on reassuring that child’s parents that their beloved youngster is in a better place now. Until the presence of a soul can be confirmed, I remain of the opinion that an evidentially grounded sense of responsibility for the common good of mankind’s living, breathing bodies, and active minds is superior to one based on the presupposition that the world we know is a sham.

Pursuant to this collection of notions, I have decided to label this post and the first with the category, “The Golden Path,” in allusion to the writings of Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr. wherein the characters Paul Atreides and his son Leto Atreides II use their prescience to predict the possible future downfall of humanity. Obviously I am not possessed of the abilities of the Kwisatz Haderach and neither is anyone else at least thus far. Obviously the point of my invocation of Herbert’s work is not to say that we need to desperately begin searching the galaxy for a source of spice melange–but I think that there are definitely things which a thorough read of the Dune epic can grant us which will be of significant assistance.

So let me break out the old literary analysis toolkit and begin to sketch out a rough and ready reading of the Dune epic, at least as it relates to the topic of what humanity and more specifically America, ought to be working at. The “Golden Path” that Paul “Mua’Dib” Atreides and his son Leto II chart out is the result of prescience, or more specifically developed in response to the existence of it and their possession of it as a consequence of a multi-millennial breeding program involving the Navigator’s Guild, the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, and the Mentats–three powerful and influential groups possessed of unique powers granted to them by the incredibly rare and precious spice mined on the planet Arrakis.

Arrakis is a profoundly harsh desert world whose lethality is matched only by the stark beauty of its sands and the relentlessly tough self-sufficiency of the planet’s human population, the Fremen. It is the single place in all the galaxy where spice can be found, and as such is a place of inconceivable value to the Human Empire. Much like the colonial South Africa and its diamonds or perhaps colonial Iraq, the planet is dominated by a powerful group granted supremacy over the land by agreement of the Emperor and the Noble Houses of the Empire, (loosely analogous to the colonial powers of Europe), and brutally segregated between marginalized Fremen and workers and the stunningly wealthy nobility.

While the setting itself could support its own interpretation, the long and the short of it is essentially that spice is a kind of ‘X factor’ that unlocks potential in humans and changes them in a manner consistent with their effort. Arrakis is therefore the hub about which the entire Human Empire turns.  It provides the Spacing Guild’s Navigators with the means to transform themselves into misshapen but potent creatures that can “fold” space with their minds and move the giant ships that allow the Empire to maintain its cohesion. It helps the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood to gain access to a kind of “genetic memory” of all past human women as well as granting them The Voice, which is a sort of quasi-mind control which can compel obedience from those who hear it, depending on the strength of the Sister and the willpower of the individual. Lastly, spice melange grants the Mentats phenomenal cognitive powers ranging from eidetic memory to rapid synthesis of huge amounts of data including lightning-fast calculations.

All of these groups benefit additionally from significantly extended life expectancy, and suffer to some degree or another from spice addiction. In light of the dark period in endogenous history during which sentient machines nearly annihilated humanity, spice addiction is a small price to pay for these sorts of replacement for various technologies. The system works. People live their lives in relative peace, the government generally functions, and trade occurs. Here is where we begin to come back to the original thrust, having done a somewhat frightfully shallow skimming of the basics–allow me if you will to enjoin you to partake of the series itself and of my future exploration of its corpus. To put it as simply as I can, humanity in the Dune universe has begun to become stagnant. The familiar primate drives for love, sex, territory, power, safety, and resources have ceased to propel the species forward.

Humans have become reliant first on spice, and second, on special and powerful groups like the three I have mentioned to take care of business. Paul and his son are the rare inheritors of both prescience and what is called the, “no-gene” which shields them from prescience. The “Golden Path” to which I refer is the end result of a determination to avoid the final destruction of humankind by an unknown enemy who might possess the same sort of prescience. The curious thing which separatesDune from most tales and Paul and his son from most heroes is that Herbert’s dystopian future narrative is decidedly ruthless in its egalitarian approach.

While Paul Atreides is lucky enough to be the scion of one of the Empire’s foremost families, in the first novel his family is thoroughly betrayed by one of their most trusted servants and the entire house sans Paul and his mother are slaughtered essentially to the last man, woman, and child. Furthermore, if one takes the time to explore beyond the initial book, we realize that Paul is in fact not the Kwisatz Haderach and is in fact only a partial success and the result of his mother’s deliberate disobedience to the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood’s orders in the face of her love for Duke Leto Atreides. Mua’Dib himself comes to his power not by being granted a special magical sword, by being the ‘chosen one’, or by inheriting a position of power and privilege that he eventually becomes worthy of during the story.

If I must summarize in brief, Paul is completely cut off from his privileged nobility and thrust into the lethally harsh landscape of Dune, and is forced to earn his way into the equally demanding company of the Fremen. He receives no special magic, makes the acquaintance of no luckily placed bearer of profundity, and has no particular advantages to start with. His prescience is the source only of confusion and fevered dreams until he puts forth the massive effort to develop it, doing so only at extreme risk from Spacer Guild Navigators, and while he is skilled in combat, he worked for years to attain that ability and did not suddenly transform from simple farmer into master at arms during of a five minute montage that takes place within two days of endogenous time.

Paul Mua’dib at least, is one of the rarest breed of heroes: the sort whose roots dig haltingly into the basest soil of human nature and grows only by dint of painful and sustained effort. Imperfect and often troubled by it, the foremost hero of Dune neither accepts nor transcends the geas of the ‘destinies’ laid upon him by the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, the treacheous House Harkonnen, the Padishah Emperor, or even his own noble family, House Atreides. In spite of and perhaps due to his own human failings, he instead grasps the reality in front of him and accepts the destiny he writes for himself: the tortuous and agonizing path of doing what is right, no matter the price in convenience, comfort, or even life itself.

Having made what might seem a startling number of wide-reaching assertions without citation, I can almost hear the keening lamentation of my many wonderful teachers, professors, and TAs echoing through the aether to my ears. To those formidable persons I direct this brief request for forbearance: consider the previous piece my introduction and this the first portion of exposition necessitated by my choice in allegorical framework. The meat and potatoes will be attended to, and the depths of the texts rigorously plumbed for support. It is just going to take awhile to do properly.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Sorry for the delay, I know this is perhaps not the ideal start to my venture into the world of internet content creation, but in light of my desire to avoid copyright issues and my desire to make certain everything is of reasonable quality, I delayed myself drawing visual aids for and re-recording the episode.

I’m going to *aim* for weekly, but I care more about making sure that Friendly Contrapologist episodes are well put-together* than I do holding to a schedule whose tightness I did not realize when I proposed it–so I might fall to biweekly. In any event I will do my best, and I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Because I worked very hard (I am no artist and was working with a laptop trackpad) to create the visual aids, I would request of you that if you copy any of the images from the video, please give me attribution. As long as you are not trying to sell them as your own work, (though why you would do so with stick figures of dubious merit I have no idea,) it is probably covered in Fair Use.

Cheers, and here is this last/this week’s episode!

*Not professionally obviously, but not purely slapdash either. I hope the effort shows. 🙂

Transcript:

Episode #2: Natural vs Supernatural
Hello hello, and welcome to Contrapologist Int’l Studios. I am Contrapologist, your friendly neighborhood Atheist. In this episode, I want to continue with definitions, but first a quick note as a follow-up to last episode’s commentary on language:
 
    Words can have multiple shared meanings as well as having different meanings to each individual. So it is possible to get confused in yet another way by not knowing the “sense” in which someone is using a word.
    For example, if you are at the beach and someone says, “cool” yet the sun is beating down on you both, you probably understand them to be referring to something which is cool in the sense of entertaining and awesome rather than using “cool” in the sense of temperature.
    The example provides context, so you can figure it out. Another problem we run into in speaking of complex and important things is that everyone has different context cues, so your view of reality might affect the way you interpret what someone else is attempting to communicate.
    I see this a lot from religious people who translate, “I’m an atheist” into, “I hate God!” or translate, “I support the separation of church and state” into, “I want to deny you your religious freedom!” While I cannot and will not claim to speak universally for all atheists, I personally have no particular feelings about any god or gods in the same way the average churchgoer has no particular feelings about Zeus, Odin, Shiva, Osiris, Epona, Amaterasu, Wotan, Marduk, the Great Spirit, Svarog, Quetzacoatl, and so on and so forth practically ad infinitum.
    So you must always keep in mind that your default way of understanding, be you atheistic or religious, might not be the intended ‘sense’ of the word. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. “
Back to business.

Natural — When we speak of “nature” we mean essentially all phenomenon that occur in the world that are, at least in principle, accessible to us in some way. For example, anything on the Earth is natural, so is space, all the planets, stars, and so on. A galaxy we can’t see is still natural because it is possible for us to fly a rocket there, at least in theory. It might take a few hundred thousand years to get there, but it isn’t impossible.
    I know this might seem like splitting hairs, but I want to be very precise about what I mean by natural. A car, a watch, a skyscraper: these are all natural in this sense of the word that we must use when we make use of the natural-supernatural dichotomy. They are natural in the sense that they exist independently of individual human perception and conform to what we call the laws of reality.

Supernatural — This word just means “Beyond the natural.” The trouble with it is that any time anything exists in the natural world, it is instantly defined as natural. So for something to be supernatural it has to be inaccessible to our senses and experience. Essentially this means that any time you claim something is supernatural, you are also implicitly admitting that you cannot know anything about it.
    I’ll re-state this with an example so it makes more sense. Let’s say you want to claim we have souls and that souls are supernatural, and so therefore we can interact with the supernatural. As soon as you claim that souls are a detectable part of reality or in any way connected to reality, they have become natural–not supernatural. Therefore if you can interact with the supernatural, it is not supernatural but natural, and therefore accessible to science at least in principle. In other words, if there are supernatural rabbits, and you claim to have seen one, you exist in the natural world, so you must have seen a natural phenomenon we do not yet understand and not a supernatural one.
    Now, it is also possible to maintain that there are natural and supernatural dimensions, but if you make that assumption and maintain that we have souls, you have to at some point be making a fairly self-absorbed and arrogant assumption about yourself. Namely, if we all have souls and you can interact with the supernatural due to your soul, then why can we not ALL interact with the supernatural, and do so under laboratory conditions?
    
    To summarize, if we use natural and supernatural together, the sense of those words that allows it and lets them fit together is necessarily that natural means anything humans can experience while we are alive, and supernatural means anything we cannot experience while alive.
    

That’s all for today from your friendly neighborhood atheist, Contrapologist. Thanks for listening.

It seems that even a tentative and halting nudge in the right direction was too terrifying a plunge for the Democratic Party to do more than flirt with, and crusading hero Antonio Villaraigosa was required to ride to the rescue of the beleaguered people of faith. Well, the Abrahamic monotheists who happen to be virtually entirely Christian sects, but as nobody who is white, elderly, rich, and has a penis is counting I suppose it is a matter of no significance. It is certainly very lucky for America and the causes of freedom and justice that we have such men as Villaraigosa to rescue us from the rapacious influence of the U.S. Constitution.

This does not mean I have only bad things to say about the man of course. His relentless push for the expansion of public transportation is quite laudable. So laudable, in fact, that executives from company that stands to benefit from the project made a five-thousand dollar contribution to Villaraigosa’s campaign. Our fearless crusader is so fervent in his quest to expand mass transit that the route is now projected to be tunneled under a school. None of this is intended to give credence to the popular conspiracy theory, of course, only a certain level of realpolitik.

Take the equally laudable push for cyclist rights our crusading champion spearheaded in 2010. The safety of Los Angeles’ cyclists is certainly a matter of no small import, given that the increasing population density and development is certain to make both the previously mentioned public transit and cycling better options economically, environmentally, and socially. It is somewhat curious, however, that Mr. Villaraigosa’s attention was drawn to the subject in such coincidental chronological proximity to injuries he sustained as the result of a cycling accident.

Please do not understand me to be calling the man’s policies into question, at least exclusively in terms of their apparent intended effects. Neither do I object to his personal qualifications, except insofar as they can be traced back in some respects to cultural roots that are intrinsically problematic when introduced into the machinery of a system of government intended to balance the needs of the many against the rights of the few. In short, I refer to: Latin machismo, the normativity of nepotism in the South American cultural landscape, and the assumption of privilege as a right rather than the result of and balancing response to responsibility.

The full treatment of these issues is a subject for another time, however. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider how they could cause problems, and continue to pursue my humbler agenda: Mr. Villaraigosa’s statements regarding the DNC’s party platform. When questioned by the media with regard to their not having heard a clear two-thirds majority, he was quoted by the L.A. Times as saying: “That’s nice to know. I was the chairman and I did, and that was the prerogative of the chair.” Although I am not saying he is necessarily mistaken, this is the sort of thing that would seem related directly to my earlier comments on Mr. Villaraigosa’s cultural milieu.

Not only do we not need the mention of “God” in the political platform of one of the nation’s two majority parties, we do not need and should as educated citizens of a democratic republic be violently opposed to this sort of casual superciliousness in the face of dissent. Villaraigosa was further quoted as saying, “I can tell you this — the president of the United States said, ‘Wow.’ The president said, ‘You showed why you were speaker of the California Assembly,’” Villaraigosa said. “The president, the vice president, Mrs. Obama, all of them acknowledged the decisive way I handled that.”

I freely concede that Mr. Villaraigosa’s handling of the situation was indeed decisive–but I would further stipulate that it was decisive in the worst of the available ways. In a party claiming such diversity and indeed in some measure possessing it, at least relative to their GOP compatriots, one would think it would be only sensible to maintain a neutral starting point that does not presuppose the existence, or at least the vested normativity, of the singular and specific God of the Abrahamic traditions. Yet the DNC’s chairman for that vote acted, in his own words, “decisively” to quash movement–however inadvertent–in that direction.

Bravo, sir. At one stroke you have alienated not only secular humanists and the “prefer not to say” sort of irreligious, but contrived to do so in a way that almost could not have been more precisely calibrated to prod the blissfully well-meaning Christians into a display of defensiveness and a publicly embarrassing and contentious search for consensus. While it is certainly in some sense factual that such consensus was present at the convention, it is considerably less so to say that it was easy to find, or that it exists within the Democratic party as a whole.

The bold decisiveness of Mr. Villaraigosa’s handling of the situation certainly can be said to have manufactured the appearance of consensus in the limited context of the predominantly religious membership of the DNC’s delegation. It remains to be proven, however, that this tenuous and putative consensus represents a genuinely inclusive position. It is perhaps unfortunate that a simple exercise in imagination is sufficient to extirpate the illusion of unanimity or at least rob it of its efficacy, given the reliance on the Democratic Party on the ideals of egalitarianism and teamwork.

If the DNC wants to capture the roughly fifteen percent of the vote represented by the non-religious, the deliberate injection of explicitly religious and moreover explicitly Judeo-Christian language into the official policy platform was at best poorly considered. Not only is it at least dancing on the line of that separation, but it seems poised to at any time step over a vent and blow the DNC’s red-white-and blue skirt up to reveal her cross-emblazoned petticoats. This sort of mawkish pandering is the very worst kind of realpolitik, managing to be both contemptibly ineffective and pointlessly infantilizing at the same time.

The Democratic Party will never accomplish anything if it spends half its time attempting to present itself as a party of variety and egalitarianism and the other half fastidiously and endlessly laboring to smuggle a single narrow-minded opinion about reality that cannot even be agreed on by the virtually innumerable sects who bogglingly join together to shovel time and money with reckless exuberance  into the ill-concealed shoehorning of their religious beliefs into an explicitly secular government which purports to represent the diverse interests of the entire American people, not simply the comfortable normativity of a creeping de facto theocracy.

Isn’t it time the DNC and America stopped laboring under the Sisyphean curse of trying to make the faithful feel that their beliefs belong in government? God can ride on the bus, but not in the driver’s seat. We tried that already.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Villaraigosa#cite_note-cycleadvocate-20

http://www.calwatchdog.com/2012/06/14/infighting-could-derail-federal-transport-bucks-for-l-a/

http://la2b.org/2012/04/17/density-transportation-in-los-angeles/

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/a-lot-of-ado-about-nothing-villaraigosa-defends-god-vote-at-the-dnc/

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2011/04/20/religion-and-party-affiliation-go-hand-in-hand

From the feedback I have gotten so far, it seems

  1. People would prefer the videos to be longer. Same content, but spaced out more.
  2. Audio quality not terrible but also not great. (Tinkering with microphone to try to address this)
  3. Video quality could be better. (I can re-upload a higher resolution video with almost no effort, I just didn’t want the video to be too large, but given it ended up being about 10mb, I think I can afford to boost the resolution.)
  4. A couple of you expressed interest in going into more depth as well

Feel free to comment here or youtube, or email me at google’s mail service under the the name of the blog. (Stated that way to avoid spam)

Good morning, evening, or afternoon.

I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself, but not in the usual manner. I care about distinguishing truth from falsehood, so if I am in error factually in a post, please do tell me but please be ready with the evidence. I’m a skeptic, and I am increasingly tired of seeing people take things on faith. I like to write, and as you’re reading this, presumably you like to read, so I think we’ll get along. (I read as well, obviously.)

While my atheism might have motivated me to expend copious quantities of energy toward the end of thinking about things carefully and critically, it is not the single end of my writing. I choose the title of contrapologist advisedly; I am not interested in defending science, reason, atheism, or secular humanism–but rather in attacking their detractors with vigor and ferocity. An apologist is often thought of as defending a controversial position, and I posit that clear thinking, and the withholding of belief until the aduction of evidence are in fact not controversial positions and require no defense.

Look around you. The evidence that science is a superior means of discerning truth from falsehood surrounds you in such profusion that the mind can scarcely encompass the immensity of a single facet of it before alighting on another. Virtually every element of modern life has its roots firmly planted in methodological naturalism–what we now call science.

Think about your actions. The evidence that skepticism is the best default position is legion. You look both ways and listen before you cross the street or make a turn while driving, avoid drinking milk past the expiration date–at least until you give it a few good sniffs, and lock your car door when you park in the city.

Babies are not born with a cross on their foreheads, at least not very often, and children must be the recipients of regurgitated faith before they themselves conceive of any metaphysical doctrines. Atheism is the default position we are all born into–some of us just never leave, or come back to it after flirting with the other options.

It will be from this foundation that I launch myself, and ask those who disagree: where is your evidence?

Thanks for reading.