Sunday, April 10, 2005

The triumph of Rationalism

First Abandoned Sofa of the Day
Originally uploaded by StefZ.

In response to a comment on an earlier post, I spent a little time yesterday reading Johann Hari€'s blog. I must confess I've never heard of him before. This is probably something to do with me being 40, unhip and not inclined to waste my time or money reading mainstream newspapers. Johann is a British based journalist and appears to be both popular and controversial, in that contrived way that I find so boring.

Key points about Johann

- He'€™s gay
- He'€™s left wing
- He'€™s an atheist
- Lot'€™s of famous people appear to think he'™s a tool.

A direct quote from the 'About'€™ section in his blog / website

'€˜Johann has been attacked in print by the Daily Telegraph, John Pilger, Peter Oborne, Private Eye, the Socialist Worker, Cristina Odone, the Spectator, Andrew Neil, George Galloway, Mark Steyn, the British National Party, Medialens, al Muhajaroun and Richard Littlejohn. 'Prince'€™ Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Ambassador to Britain, has accused Johann of '€waging a private jihad against the House of Saud'. This is true. Johann has been called 'a Stalinist'€ and '€œbeneath contempt'€ by Noam Chomsky, '€œan uppity little queer'€ by Bruce Anderson, '€œfat'€ by the Dalai Lama and 'a cunt'€ by Busted. This makes him think he is doing something right.'

So, it would appear that f*cking people off is a measure of one'€™s worth. Except of course if you f*ck off any homosexuals or left wingers. Per the comments section in his website:

'Abusive or libellous messages will be deleted, as will racist, homophobic or otherwise-bigoted comments.'

This reminds me of watching my favourite activist, Peter Tatchell, on tele a couple of months ago. One day he was on a news program demanding equal rights for minority groups, the very next day he was asked for the justification for the ban on fox hunting. Without any trace or irony whatsoever in his voice he said 'Well, the vast majority of the British population are opposed to hunting ...'™

So, there€'s a journalist out there making a fine living practicing double standards and hypocrisy. What'€™s new?

The thing is, I got drawn into commenting on an article he wrote criticising the Pope. Like, wow, there'€™s a dark side to the Papacy, controversial or what? Some of the people responding to my comments were ignorant. A couple were not. Unfortunately, one person even started quoting Leviticus. Eventually, I got bored and stopped playing. A little later on I revisited the comments section. I noticed that the thread had veered off in an unpleasant direction and that some commentators were saying that Africans were too stupid too use condoms and only had an IQ of 70. Unsurprisingly, others took issue with this claim. Johann had also waded in to extol the virtues of atheism in comparison with superstition, i.e. religion, particularly organised religion

Now, here'€™s the problem. Johann represents a strain of thought that, whether Johann would admit it or not, is dominant in British Society, particularly the media. It's a strain of thought that manages to combine an atheistic viewpoint with left wing politics and a belief in the rights of minorities, well certain minorities anyway.

The problem is that this viewpoint just doesn't stack up.

If you really believe that all life, all existence is just the product of mumbo jumbo physics and blind chance nothing then matters at all, nothing. So what if I go outside and kick a few cripples? They'€™ll be dead in a few years anyway. They're just a collection of molecules. Their desperate screams are just a trick played by their DNA to fool me into allowing to them survive so that they can mindlessly continue to reproduce themselves.

I could follow the logical consequences of this atheistic viewpoint even further. We'€™re all here because of Darwinian selection. Within any group of species and within each species there are individuals more adapted to their environments than others. One group of human beings being inherently stupider than the others fits perfectly well within a Darwinian view. In fact, it is to be expected. It is also reasonable to expect that one group will triumph over others and replace them. Too stupid to invent the belt-fed machine gun? Then die f*ckers! Come to think of it, what evolutionary purpose is served by homosexuality? Or handicaps? Aren'€™t these people getting in the way?

Excuse me, but that's a seriously f*cked up view of life. And, sorry, it is the logical consequence of an atheistic world view. And that'™s why we live in a World driven by unhappiness. That's why so many desperate, lost people clung to the Pope, in spite of some of the cr*p he came out with.

I'€™d be the first to admit that there are answers to the issues I'€™ve raised but, to my mind they're not very good ones. But try it out for yourself. Next time someone like Johann or his ilk try to sell their particular bill of goods push them on the logical consequences of what they're preaching.

Be careful though. These people like to think they're part of an intellectual elite, set upon this Earth, presumably by random forces, to lead the ignorant mob along the path of true enlightenment. And this is where the Left and the Right meet. From Lenin to Hitler, from Trotsky to the Neocons. They'€™re f*cking with us and won'€™t let weaknesses like honesty or open mindedness get in their way.

I'm no Jesus freak but I'€™m onto their game. There'€™s a fundamental mystery to Existence that science cannot explain. I doubt if it ever will. To deny that mystery by pretending it doesn'€™t exist is a denial of our innate nature to believe, to see beauty and to love.

People are not just meat, well most people aren't anyway. People who are handicapped or disadvantaged in some way have an equal share in the mystery of existence and are not evolutionary impediments. We all have a right to live, love and be loved.

Now if Johann or his mates can explain to me how I can logically fit the sanctity of life and the rights of individuals in between Big Bang and Universal Heat Death, without me validly saying '€˜But so what?'™ at the end of their explanation, I'€™ll be impressed.

Get a Life. Get a portion.


Anonymous said...

Stef –-

This one’s a tough one to wrap one’s mind around.

Your questions and concerns about morals and ethics in a deterministic world are similar to those addressed in philosophical naturalism.

How can we be moral, ethical human beings in a fully determined world?

Indeed, would ANYTHING MATTER in a determined world?

Risking your wrath, let me explain my view, if I can.

From a position that there’s ONLY stimulus and response (all things are physically caused, there are no supernatural processes, we don’t have contra-casual free will), as sentient beings we still desire certain outcomes, not the least of which is a desire to keep the stimuli coming in; to continue to live.

To this, I add a ‘feedback loop’ to the philosophical naturalist’s fully caused natural world-view.

By being sentient creatures, I believe we can influence our next ‘stimulus’ through a selective ‘feedback loop’ and thus influence the natural process around us (simulating ‘free-will’ in a fully caused natural world, as it were).

To me, it’s the belief in a super-natural, theistic process that causes all the problems you address, not the fully-determined natural process.

When I can do anything and claim ‘the devil made me do it’, all rational arguments become null and void.

At the other extreme, some people say god causes everything. If that’s true, which deterministic world-view do we then choose?

I chose the natural world-view, but that’s just me, I guess.

Borrowing from Rene’ Descartes:

I am a muse, therefore I think.
I think, therefore I am.
I am, therefore I amuse.

Have a good day.

-- The Daemon of Whether

Stef said...


From big fluffy, marshmallowly old me?

Your comment deserves a fuller response than I'm mentally equipped to provide at the moment but who, in a conscience, could be critical of someone who has adopted a naturalistic view after some thought and contemplation?

My specific issue with the line taken by Hari and others is that they profess to be atheists. They believe, sorry, KNOW that existence is driven by unthinking naturalistic forces. Yet, at the same time, they espouse minority rights and left wing political views. But, in such a naturalistic universe there are no such things as rights, or right and wrong, or good and evil. Left wing atheists do not address this contradiction at the heart of their beliefs, yet people still swallow them. People swallow this line of thought because it is drummed into them every day by the forces of secular consumerism and because the only opposing voices they hear are those from the organised religions, which have more than their own share of internal contradictions and bullshit to deal with.

Who decided that, ultimately, we can only choose between an existence that is random and without purpose or one where every event is preordained and micromanaged? Every single day I sense and see evidence that something different is going on. I try to be objective about it but maybe I'm kidding myself. Maybe I'm not. I'm still searching. On the way I try to adhere to a set of moral beliefs that seem 'right' to me. This set of beliefs owes more to religion than atheism. A lot more. Life and existence are mysterious. Those of us who are a fortunate to have some time out from the grind have the opportunity to see this more clearly. In that respect, I am a lucky man.

Atheists like Hari commit exactly the same sins as those who dogmatically follow organised religions. They know the Answer and arrogantly sneer at, patronise and, yes, lie to the rest of us too dumb to recognise the brilliance of their position. Two sides of the same coin.

On the Descartes point, ‘I am a Muse therefore I think’ never really cut it for me. I want to know why we think, are we sentient/ self aware by accident or are we endowed with that gift for a reason? After some contemplation of the Descartes quote, most recently today, his answer doesn’t do it for me.

Have a good day yourself also, what’s left of it

Anonymous said...

Stef –

I wasn’t endorsing Descartes, I was playing with words this morning. You need to read all three ‘Descartes’ lines together.

I do these things to amuse myself, ‘I am a Muse’, etc. and every now and then, they slip into my writing.

You need to watch for them, like speed bumps in a road, they’re designed to slow me down and make me think ... and perhaps make you think too.

Now, to answer your question, I think by accident.

I currently lean toward the ‘aquatic ape hypothesis or theory’, but however it happened, we Homo sapiens sapiens found ourselves ‘wired’ for symbols and speech. From that, we developed language and the rest is history, as they say. One can argue whether symbols and speech gave us an edge, but I think one could make a good case for it.

Eating fish for a few thousand years may have had a greater impact on us than we realize.

Sentient beings are not without purpose. We have a basic desire to keep stimuli going into our symbol processor (our brain), but beyond that, we don’t have to choose ... unless we wish to choose.

I don’t get excited about Hari and others like him. They’re all twits as far as I’m concerned. Ignore them and their labels and move on.

I don’t know the answer to ANY question, but I keep looking. It’s what gets me up in the morning. That and word games :-)

I think you missed my ‘meta-phallic’ ‘buttering’ and ‘up’ comment a couple of weeks ago.

Anyway, Hari is not worth getting excited about. We have bigger fish to fry.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imaging all the people
Living for today ...

Be safe.

Stef said...

Yes, I think I did miss your meta-phallic comment. I'll have a root around and see what happened to it.

I did pick up on your word games this time (not every time though) and didn't think you were endorsing RD but I get sloppy, sloppier than usual, in my writing when typing into these little comment boxes. There's also that desire to acknowledge a comment within as suitably appreciative time frame as possible.

Re. Descartes

'I think therefore I am'

I understand why he started there. Arguably, you have to. What I was trying to express, badly as it happens, is that outside of organised religion and naturalism there are few explanations on the table as to WHY we are self-aware. There's yet another huge essay on that subject, but not today.

I loved the aquatic ape hypothesis when it first emerged and when I was 100% Darwinian in my World View. I still do. I can see my copy on the bookshelf now. All those directional hairs, bonus fat layers and new born babies being able to swim are simply crying out for an explanation. But, these questions irritate the mainstream explanation as to how we are what we are. The Aquatic Ape hypothesis, as far as I can tell, has been largely ignored.

Anyway, another day, another comment box ...

Peter said...

I may have mis-understood somewhere, but are you saying you don't believe in evolution?

If you are, do you believe the first homo-sapiens shared the fundamental mystery? Do all animals?

Belief in the greater power naturally led to religion, which has been a more negative force than atheism.

I'm not sure I agree that left-wing politics and atheism are irreconcilable ideas. I’d take ideals in society through awareness and personal decisions ahead of morality through fear of divine retribution any day.

A higher power may result in a nicer society, and even a more fulfilling life, but I’d rather be “Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”.

People can appreciate Love and Beauty just as much in believing them to be a physical reaction to something we're hard/soft wired to like.

I appreciate that it’s ignorant to suggest that you have the answer and every one else is wrong, and like everyone my mindset is completely altered by a life of instruction, but I’m still an atheist for now.

Like The Daemon, I don't want to incur your wrath with this :)

Stef said...

Ooo-er where do I start?

Evolution? Nope, no way, not a goer. Of course the debate on evolution is rigged such that a rejection of Darwinism means an acceptance of Creation myth as laid out in a sacred book. F*ck that. I reject both. The science, and logic, support neither. That puts me in an admittedly small, select club and I'm happy to be a member.

Re. the homo sapien question. Firstly, I don't claim to understand where animals fit into this. They share with us the spark of life, a truly wonderful and precious thing. In spite of the shameless lies we are told, no scientist anywhere has ever been able to come near to replicating that spark. Regardless of the voltage applied. However, animals do taste nice and I am biologically equipped to eat them so, in some way, they are definitely onto a loser. Secondly, the fossil record and the simple act of looking at the living world around us, supports the notion that apples are apples, elephants are elephants, and homo sapiens are homo sapiens. If species are in the process of evolving and transforming into different species would someone show me a few transitional forms please ('artist's impressions' don't count). So, in answer to your question, the first homo sapiens are no different to later homo sapies. Whatever mojo we have, they had. Maybe they even had a little more. There was less bullshit about.

Divine wrath? Why should theist or agnostic belief include expectation of divine wrath? Back to more deceit from the atheists AND Bible thumpers. Rejection of atheism, as with rejection of Darwinist evolution, does not mean I, or anyone else, should be driven into the arms of the God Squad. If I can communicate one point to you, or anyone else, it's this. Very often, ALL the answers on the table are wrong.

Mmmm, religion responsible for more negative consequnces than atheism? Undoubtedly true, as widespread atheism hasn't been a round that long. But how about the belief in the survival of the fittest logically applied to humanity for starters. The concept of inferior races? Eugenics? Genocides? Death Camps? But, of course, religion has been responsible for most wars over the course of history hasn't it? Yes, World War II was actually a quibble over theological differences all along, as was Vietnam, World War I, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of Jenkins Ear. All of them were about religion weren't they?

Left wing politics and atheism irroconcilable? Depends on your definition of both concepts. I'll repeat an earlier question. If, as atheists believe, we are all here as a result of blind chance and physics why, logically, should anyone give a sh*t about anyone or anything else? Clever atheist left (and right) wingers have always appreciated that there is a paradox here, or rather they know full well what the real deal is, but they have traditionally allowed the masses to cling to their dated, bourgeois moral codes whilst merrily slaughtereing people by the million in pursuit of the greater good, whatever that might be.

When I talk about Love I'm not talking about that chemical trick our body plays with us to stimulate reproduction and the nurturing of young. Ditto for beauty. When I talk about beauty I'm not talking about a nice pair of breasts or a roast chicken, beautiful as they are.

'I’d take ideals in society through awareness and personal decisions'. So would I but, in an atheist world, this is just an illusion. All your decisions, all your awareness are simply the result of the programming a biological machine by a series of external inputs. 'You' have nothing to do with the process.

Surely a fool can be as equally satisfied by atheism as theism? Standing from the virtual balcony of my small club with a virtual cold drink in my hand, what I see is two groups of people remarkably similar in their outlooks. They have absolute answers to the Big Questions, everyone else is a tit for not seeing this, the quest is over.

Wrath? No wrath here for anyone with questions. Plenty of wrath for those who pretend to have all the answers.

Right, I'm going to have to come up with some knob gags to put in this blog. It's getting, as it does sometimes, far too heavy.

Anonymous said...

Stef –

As sentient beings, I believe we’re sufficiently self-directed within the limits established by a ‘cause and effect’ - ‘stimulus and response’ – model that our future is NOT pre-determined.

Pre-determination has always been an emotional issue, due mainly to the fact that it’s been poorly understood.

I’m ‘all natural – all the time’ so I don’t struggle with why we’re self-aware. I see us as a biology-based computer sitting on a support system with the ‘power-on’, hence our ‘self-awareness’.

In the sixties I took enough ‘stuff’ to interfere with my self-awareness feedback loop to realize that it existed and could be manipulated.

Great apes seem to be self-aware when they sign themselves that way, at least for those who do the pseudo-sign language thingee.

If we ARE a biology-based computer sitting on a support system, anything that improves ‘the computer’ gives us an advantage, hence my interest in the aquatic ape (fish eating) theory.

From my experiences in the sixties, I’ve learned that I can ‘fine-tune’ MY computer functions (a brain wired for symbols), now using diet, sleep, vitamins and supplements – not the old ‘stuff’ anymore – and materially improve my ability to think.

It’s been a ‘trip’, old and new, that’s for sure.

We have two conversations going, I’m going to combine them here:

I use William Blake for inspiration. He was an original thinker with a complicated imagination. That’s what I honor, not his religious beliefs.

He wrote at a time when one couldn’t write of church and state, so much of what he wrote was in ‘code’. It’s been fun for me to try and break it down.

I’m concerned that church and state are making a serious comeback today and derailing the Romanticism of Blake and the Enlightenment of Bacon, to name only two (of many).

Our times have gotten my attention and resurrected my ‘daemon of whether’, hence my looking for people who ‘understand’ and ‘appreciate’ the words of Blake, Lennon, and Bacon.

Keep up your social criticism, it makes me think too, while I sort out what’s happening here.

Be safe.

Stef said...

All very reasonable stuff and, once again, worthier of more reaasoned response than I feel up to providing this afternoon.

Biological machines we are, no doubt. The question is, of course, is that all we are? I contend no. I am certainly sure that the mechanism of evolution fails to explain how the machinery of life was put together. My rejection is based on observation and reason, not superstition.

There's a piece by Mark Twain, one of my pet literary heroes, called 'What is Man' which makes a strong case for the machine-only position. If you haven't read it, I'd say it's worth a spin. Certainly the first half. And, being written by Twain, long out of copywright. Much of the best stuff is.

We certainly do live in serious times. Your take, is that Church and State are on the rise. My take is a little different. I believe that it is the equilibrum between church and state that is changing. Too much church in some areas. Far too much state in others. This has happened many times before, always with unpleasant results. This time round we also have to deal with the rise of corporatism. Companies now manage our lives directly and act as if they can bring us spiritual salvation, their particular brand of salvation.

I had picked up on the reasons for your interest in Blake and, yes, I'd agree with you on the use of code and allegory. That was how things were done. But it's the very of existence of people like Blake and the things they create that demonstrate to me that a lot more is going on than existing naturalistic thought systems permit us to believe.

If genius such as Blake's was simply the product of random variation and selection we should be able to replicate it through a fairly straightforward computer model. We should also be able to design butterflies, and swans, and everything else in a similiar fashion. We can't.

OK, I'm being a little simplistic here but the arrogance of science shows no bounds. We can't replicate life yet we pretend we know where all life came from. We monkey around with DNA and pretend that we know how that works. Maybe, one day we will. In the meantime, a little more humility and respect wouldn't go amiss. A little bit more 'church', in its broader sense, and a little less corporate state.

Anyway, I'll kick these ideas around some more in the near future but not through this damned comment box system.

Keep thinking