[This is primarily a talk I gave at a Vancouver Skepticamp recently, with some expansion/clarification at the end in response to some feedback I received]
I’d like to talk about how we use ‘rationality’ in everyday conversations, and how we use it in skeptic/atheist/freethinker circles. I don’t consider anything I say here to apply to academic disciplines, as they are usually pretty good about operationalising their definitions (or should be, at the least).
I think ‘rationality’ is a profoundly problematic word, as used in the vernacular, and I’d like to encourage you all to drop it from your vocabulary. Now, before ye get all het up and start acting irrationally, hear me out.
[This essay is going to focus primarily on the skeptic/atheist community, as that’s the community I mostly interact with. I’m sure it holds true for others too, so don’t read this essay as me claiming that this is somehow unique to skeptics and/or atheists. Additionally, this essay only applies to people who want to discuss things with other people. If your preferred style of communication is lecturing people, and you’re not particular interested in changing (or even hearing) their position: this does not apply to you]
In the years that I’ve been involved in the skeptic/atheist community, I’ve noticed two tendencies that are, unfortunately, completely at odds with one another: making the claim that we really want to discuss things, and doing a massive information dump, laying out our ‘complete’ position on something in one go.
Not only are these two things in tension, they’re actually mutually exclusive. Here’s why.
Florida has recently been in the news for having ‘active shooter drills’. Alas, Florida is not alone in this, so the rest of the world can yet again sigh ‘only in America’. And let’s face it: this is yet more security theatre, serving no legitimate purpose. Like taking off one’s shoes at security in the airport (thanks for that too, America).
Indicating his complete disconnection from reality, Polk County Public Schools spokesman Jason Gearey said in an e-mailed statement to The Washington Post:
“Unfortunately, no one gets an advanced notice of real life emergencies. We don’t want students to be scared, but we need them to be safe.”
This is, unfortunately, just a jumble of words with no real meaning contained within.
As is often the case when someone says some terrible things, a furore occurs between the people who think that that person should be barred from speaking at certain locations (e.g. on a university campus), or even being allowed into a country, and those people who are profoundly confused about ‘freedom of speech’. A recent example of this is regarding Julien Blanc, and Andy J. Semotiuk provides us with an exemplar of confused writing over at that bastion of nonsense, Forbes.
Content note: the following is a discussion of an awful human being who advocates sexual assault (Blanc), and the people who support them.
It’s a fairly uncontroversial observation to note that Vancouver has a lot of people who are homeless, by which we mean that have no fixed address. Many of these people sleep in shelters, if they can get in on time, or on the streets if they can’t. This is, of course, in addition to the ‘invisible homeless’, people who manage to get by by sleeping on the couches and floors of understanding friends.
While Vancouver does have a large quantity of people who are homeless, they don’t seem to ‘count’ though. Certainly, they count less than people who are ‘residents’, even though those people who are without a fixed address may well have been ‘resident’ in this city longer than many of those labeled ‘residents’. I, myself, can only be considered a ‘resident’ here for less than 2 years, even though I first moved here in 2006. The framing of this article by the CBC certainly seems to imply that I am far more important than any of the people without a fixed address, regardless of how long they’ve lived in this city.
In a recent article in Salon, Jeffrey Tayler goes on quite the tirade against Reza Aslan, and Aslan’s position that people who criticise Islam for what it says in the Koran are simply doing criticism wrong. Tayler, in a magnificent example of “Oh yeah?! Let me demonstrate exactly how correct you are!”, proceeds to sift out quotes from the Koran. I’m not exactly sure what Tayler is attempting to do, but I (for one) try to make an effort to understand what I’m criticising before committing it to print.
I’m going to deconstruct Tayler’s article here, and try to illuminate the various errors that he’s making.
I’ve been recently discussing with someone the possibility that, basically, magic is a real thing that really happens in the real world. Really. In fairness, those are not the terms that they use, but nevertheless that’s the argument being presented.
The idea is that since our intentions can affect water, and humans are “70% to 90% water, depending on age”, then we can totally affect the health of other people with our thoughts. As evidence for this claim, when pushed (and it was like pulling teeth) they refer to Dr. Emoto’s work on water and intention. Ironically, Dr. Emoto appears to have done very little science on this topic, insofar as he has a total of one (1) paper published, and even then it’s in the fringe science Journal of Scientific Exploration. The paper is titled (this link goes to a PDF) “Effects of Distant Intention on Water Crystal Formation: A Triple-Blind Replication“. The rest of this post will be a breakdown of that paper.
I know a number of people here in Vancouver working in restaurants and bars, and the prevalence of unlawful behaviour is just astounding. Of course, I don’t mean the staff stealing from employers, but employers just stealing wholesale from the staff.
While BC has some fairly mediocre labour laws, it has labour laws that employers are obligated to abide by. Unfortunately, as the laws are civil in nature (rather than criminal), the enforcement of these laws falls on the shoulders of the employees: if the staff don’t report the breach to the Employment Standards Branch, then the company happily trundles on, stealing from the employees.
This isn’t theft, you say? Since the staff have implicitly agreed to this state of affairs, it’s no-one else’s business to intervene? I’m sure that it’s possible that you could be more wrong about this, but it’s not obvious how. Allow me to explain.
Sue Blackmore has an article up on Richard Dawkins’s website regarding a hundred or so students who deigned to walk away from a lecture on memes she was giving. She expected “people to listen and then argue and disagree if they wished to” as opposed to exercising their right not to be denigrated or insulted by walking away. Note that she wasn’t prevented from speaking, though she was accosted afterwards (which was entirely not-cool, please don’t misunderstand me as being in favour of post-lecture ambushes….).
Her article is an exercise in bullshit and spin. Here’s why: