As with many other people, I often find myself denigrating things that I consider ridiculous, and on my best days I’ll catch myself and ask myself ‘ok, but *why* is that ridiculous…?’. There’s that weird experience of being in two places at once, the Brian that’s experiencing the ridiculous and seeing it as the silliness that it is, and the second Brian that’s seeing the first and trying to understand their thought process.
Even though I have the advantage of being able to access the thought process of the first Brian, which I completely lack when dealing with the people who dwell outside of my head, those thought processes can still suffer from the problem of unintentionally making up explanations after the thought has occurred, rather than an actual explanation for the thought (confabulation). We all experience this (please pay attention to the “unintentionally” part of the definition), so this adds an additional layer of difficulty: not only do I not have access to the thoughts of other people, we oftentimes don’t have accurate access to our OWN thoughts.
Due to the recent rebranding of white supremacists, fascists, and nazis as “the alt-right” and their subsequent resurgence, there has been much hand wringing about ‘punching nazis’ as an appropriate response against those who are moving to enact genocide.
This hand wringing holds echoes of the “just ignore them and they’ll go away” nonsense that was often blathered in my direction when I was accosted with bullies throughout my life, and (as such) I have an opinion on this topic informed by long involvement with violent confrontation.
Punch them as hard as you can. Just the once. I don’t feel like burying this at the end of the essay, so I thought I’d just set it up at the start. Why? The answer to that is long.
It’s come to my attention that there’s an organization pushing for a monument to be raised here in Vancouver, in George Wainborn Park, “for the sole purpose of providing recognition to the significant contribution of Irish Canadians and Canadians of Irish descent to Canada”.
I object to this (and yes, I’m Irish) for a number of reasons that I’ve outlined in an email to that organization. I’ve included it below.
I’ve been thinking about the writing of philosophy, whose writing I enjoy the most, whose style I most wish to emulate, and I think that there isn’t just one philosopher who’s style I love. (all of the names that follow will be white and male, as I’ve been slowly going beyond what was available in my undergrad, but have not yet read enough of others to make a fair comparison)
Scene: a coffee shop where two people are in a heated discussion over a complex topic.
Galina: “So you can see that, generally speaking, this is predominantly the case!”
Bob: “No! What about this one time, that thing happened! That shows that you’re completely wrong!”
Galina, confused: “I don’t understand what that has to do with this?”
Bob: “Hey, this isn’t my area of expertise. I’m just being a Devil’s Advocate….”
This scene is all too common, and it’s immensely frustrating for people who have spent time and energy learning about a topic to be “refuted” by someone who knows very little. “Refuted”, though, is not the same as refuted, because Bob hasn’t actually offered a useful counterargument. No, Bob is just being a contrarian jerk. And contrarian jerks love to claim that they’re “just being a Devil’s Advocate”.
An acquaintance of mine sent me a link to a conversation between Dan Dennett and Sam Harris, wherein Dennett attempts to explain the holes in Harris’s puerile arguments against the concept of “free will”.
In any case, this particular post isn’t about Harris, but a particular point he reiterates repeatedly: that we can (and should) change our beliefs “in real-time”.
This view, regardless of who holds it, is incorrect, and here’s why.
Sometimes I wonder what getting a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard University entails, or even a Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from the University of Virginia. Alas, if the Rev. Dr. David Fekete is any indication, it entails not being required to actually know what you’re talking about, and to just blather any old thing without consequence.
Fekete recently penned a screed in the Edmonton Journal claiming that prohibiting prayer as part of government business privileges the belief system of Secular Humanism. From this single erroneous claim, he moves on to declare a number of falsehoods, such as “Secular humanism would have a world evacuated of religion”.
If this is the tripe that the Edmonton Journal prints, then I guess we also have the measure of that rag, in addition to Harvard’s Theological Studies department….
[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 the word ‘rational’ 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.