Friday, October 24, 2008

The National IQ Test

"We've arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."
-Carl Sagan

"It is not always easy to diagnose. The simplest form of stupidity - the mumbling, nose-picking, stolid incomprehension - can be detected by anyone. But the stupidity which disguises itself as thought, and which talks so glibly and eloquently, indeed never stops talking, in every walk of life is not so easy to identify, because it marches under a formidable name, which few dare attack. It is called Popular Opinion..."
-Robertson Davies

"There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion."
-Lord (John Emerich Edward Dalberg) Acton

"Wanting to be right so badly that you come to actually believe that you are right, is not the same thing as actually being right.
If you can't tell the difference, you're hopelessly lost, and no-one can help you anymore."
-St. Brian the Godless

The National IQ Test

Watching the McCain-Palin campaign in action has made me realize that this isn’t just a contest between Republicans and Democrats, it’s a contest between the belief-based mentality and the thought-based mentality. It is a contest between those who do not habitually question things deeply to determine their veracity, and those who do.

It is a contest between those that think the cherubs are soap, and those who can tell that they’re plastic. (See previous post)

Now I don't know about you, but when I watch politics I pay attention not only to my candidate’s statements but also to those of his or her opponent’s. I look into the statements of the opponent deeply, to make sure that I’m backing the right person. I seriously consider the possibility that the opponent may be telling the truth, so I look their statements up on the web, read a lot of (often conflicting) data about them, and check out independent sources as well as my candidate’s rebuttal. I watch various sources of cable news. I read many different websites. I make every attempt to stay informed about both sides of every issue and even the related issues, and then I decide who’s telling the truth and who isn’t. By then it’s usually pretty obvious. And if the other guy isn’t telling the truth and my candidate is, this is not only a plus for the credibility of my candidate in my mind, but a minus for the other guy.

Now to my mind, there’s no other way to be. How else can one cut through the “spin” and see the substance other than by being a hypercritical skeptic? But to many people it’s a lot easier than that. They go with their “gut” instead. This is another way to say that they vote based on belief and emotion rather than on careful and unbiased thought. And they are legion.

How else to explain the fact that McCain-Palin is even close in the polls to Obama-Biden when by all rights with the vast amounts of easily-detectable distortions and outright lies that they’ve been tossing out there at their opponents they should be national laughing stocks by now? Not to mention the difference in message, and the obvious difference in the intelligence and judgment of the candidates? And the obvious fact, the undeniable reality that Sarah Palin is not anywhere near being ready to be president of this great country, and never will be, and that her selection was a mockery, a slap in the face to thinking Americans everywhere.

Apparently there are an incredible number of people in this country that do not see the value of skepticism and penetrating thought.

Oh, I see that Sarah Palin is finally getting close to being a laughing stock. About time. I was laughing at her the day she was introduced as candidate and have only stopped to vomit occasionally since. How long do some people take to see through such an obvious total and complete lie? Her entire persona is a carefully constructed fabrication. She lives the lie. She is the lie. She’s a puff of smoke in front of a mirror. A piece of eye-candy with an arsenic center. It worries me that people have been taking so long to see through her, though. She’s not a very good lie. She’s on the level of the toddler that says they didn’t eat the cookie with crumbs still on their lips. Transparent as glass and thus all the more appalling that some people can’t see through her at all, and that they can vote.

But good old John McCain is apparently a better lie. Oh, I assure you that he is now indeed a lie, as much as Sarah Palin is. He just has his past honor and glory and “maverickiness” to fall back on to make the lie seem more real.

(Hey, it worked when he was running for senate)

When you consider how much he’s broken from that past recently, how much he’s changed, it’s hard to believe that anybody would fall for it, but they still do. It’s sad, actually. He used to have a modicum of honor, but he traded it all for a chance at the prize. He’s sold his soul as much as Judas ever did, seeking to trade his honor and glory for power and fame. How is this not obvious to all? The man’s an open book, for all that have eyes to see.

Neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin is a very convincing lie, as lies go. Neither one is very hard to see through, if you’re a thinking individual. They’re not hard to judge as people. They’ve made it very easy, in fact. They practically dare us to spot them. They’re laughably obvious. Ms. Palin in particular is a caricature of vicious stupidity coupled with an egomaniacal drive. If people looked on the outside as they really are on the inside she’d look like Quasimodo instead of a pageant winner. The loathsomeness virtually drips off her. Just look at what she inspires among her base. She has the basest base in the country. When she called herself a pitbull with lipstick, I really didn’t think that she meant it literally. As in, she’s one vicious bitch if ever there was one.

Why aren’t more of us laughing? They're both very funny! Why do any of us even consider voting for them, when our only reaction should be amusement at their pathetic, childish attempts to fool us into thinking that they're competent when they're so clearly not?

I have to put this thought out there: If so much of the Republican Party wasn’t so religious, I don’t think they’d be so gullible and willing to just believe in someone without adequately examining them based on a few claims that appeal to them. They’ve been conditioned to have faith and believe in things without proof or evidence, as long as it “feels right.” And it “feels right” when it agrees with their preconceived erroneous worldview that they’ve been conditioned into in the first place. It even seems that some of them have little regard for the truth anymore, as in, they can’t even tell it from the lies, and don’t seem to see the importance of trying to. To them, the truth is whatever they believe it to be.

And of course, McCain’s white. That figures in here heavily as well, I’m sure. More ignorance at work.

This election is an important test. It is an IQ test for the entire nation. And it’s not like the usual IQ test. It’s not scored. It’s “pass or fail.” It’s “are we too ignorant as a country to merit survival as a world leader or even as a country, or are we worthy to be that "Shining City on a Hill" for the rest of the world once again?

If we fail, unfortunately we will deserve the consequences. And I fear that they will be dire.

More ancillary stupidity:

-Apparently a McCain volunteer carved a “B” into her own face and tried to say a black Obama supporter did it after he mugged her. She just admitted the hoax after a polygraph. How stupid was she? The "B" was reversed on her face, as in she carved it as it looked in the mirror. Drudge jumped all over it of course, since it showed how hateful we Obama supporters really are… And the right had a field day talking about it, how maybe it meant that people should think again about voting for Obama... The little psycho even got a call from the Queen Psycho herself, Sarah Palin!

Now with the truth out there, it only shows how psychotic McCain supporters can be and how rabid their campaign has become. Nice going there Matt Drudge, on vetting your sources or even caring about the truth. Nice going there McCain campaign for trying to foment hatred when you thought you had a chance. Too bad it backfired like that. Guess that's the risk you take when you try to appeal to American's nutcases.

-Also, Joe the Plumber was formerly Joe the Alaskan. He used to live there. Do you smell a rodent yet?

-And Sarah Palin just bought more clothes Monday. That’s in addition to the 150k that the republicans have already spent on her. She’s an expensive lie, apparently.

In never rains but it pours.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Christianity and Perception

"You never see animals going through the absurd and often horrible fooleries of magic and religion. Dogs do not ritually urinate in the hope of persuading heaven to do the same and send down rain. Asses do not bray a liturgy to cloudless skies. Nor do cats attempt, by abstinence from cat's meat, to wheedle the feline spirits into benevolence. Only man behaves with such gratuitous folly. It is the price he has to pay for being intelligent but not, as yet, quite intelligent enough."
-Aldous Huxley

“Faith means not wanting to know what is true.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

"Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
- George Bernard Shaw

"If you would be a real seeker after truth,
it is necessary that at least once in your life
you doubt, as far as possible, all things."
- Rene Descartes

"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wiseman knows himself to be a fool."
-Shakespeare, “As You Like It”

“Learn to think before you believe, or you’ll soon believe that you don’t have to think.”
-St. Brian the Godless

Christianity and Perception

I’ve told this story before, but not in this venue. I call it my “Soap Cherubs” story.

Oh, stop groaning…

“When I was ten my family used to talk about these two prized Italian carvings of cherubs that they had, hand carved in great detail out of soap. Being Italian themselves, they were rather proud of them.

One day I carefully dabbed some water on my finger and tested a wing. It didn't feel soapy at all. I then noticed mold marks. And a label "Made in Japan" on the bottom. I carefully bent a wing tip, and it flexed nicely. It wasn't soap. It was plastic. And it wasn’t carved. It was injection-molded.

I told my mom, tried to explain the facts as to why they couldn’t be soap, and it was like she couldn't hear me. I was just a kid, and she knew that they were soap, and I was just hitting her with way too much detail. Same with my aunt and my dad. But the cherubs weren't soap, and I know this today for a fact.

She didn't lie when she told me that they were soap all those times, but it wasn't true, and nothing that I could say could convince her that she was wrong. And yet she and the rest of my family were wrong. They just didn't see details in things like I did, so they were unable to see that the cherubs were not carved soap, even when presented with the evidence.

I learned that they were blind to many, many other things in addition to the "soap" cherubs that were not. One of them was the illogic of their religion.

Open your minds someday, people of faith. You're not seeing the plastic.”

Ahh, an oldie but a goodie…

Incidentally, I am adopted, a fact that has caused me much relief in my day.

I think this little (true) story of mine outlines the differences between the belief-based mindset and the fact-based mindset. The Christian mind versus the Atheist mind, if you will. Many Christians, having been taught to distrust or merely to ignore much of science, do not see the need to train themselves to perceive fine details well. They’ve been taught that the details of this reality are superfluous anyhow, since it’s all about the afterlife. Also that contradicting concepts can exist side-by-side. And that the Bible tells us all we need to know. And the most horrific, that to doubt any of this is not only wrong, but metaphysically evil, something you can go to hell for, thus making one of the bastions of intellect itself, critical thinking, a punishable offense.

But science teaches us to doubt in all things, including and especially yourself, at all times. That doubt in all things is the most intelligent attitude, and that the true skeptics are almost always the ones to find out the real truth eventually.

The two mindsets are diametrical opposites. And they are at war.

Having not studied science, many Christians cannot truly comprehend, cannot “internalize” things like vast spans of time, vast distances, the complexity of nature’s web of life, and our place in it. They are unused to the sheer mind-numbingly complex amount of fine detail that comprises even basic science, and thus for example see “irreduceable complexity” where the scientist sees the normal mechanism of evolution at work over vast eons of time, more than sufficient time to produce the contested results. The eye. The flagellum. Both easily explicable and even “common-sensical.” I can easily visualize the process of the evolution of a vertebrate eye, and I’m no scientist. I can intuit it from what I know about evolution and other examples of such appearances of complex traits. And incidentally, to think that a few light-sensitive cells would be of no discernable advantage to a creature living in a world of otherwise completely blind organisms is very “short-sighted” indeed. Same with the rotory mechanism involved in the euglena’s locomotive apparatus. Given enough time, the most complicated and seemingly improbable results are possible, and life on this planet has had an awful lot of time. A vast span of time. Eons.

An unimaginable length of time to some, unfortunately. If you think the world's only six thousand years old and therefore have trouble even imagining a million years, how can you ever hope to grasp the changes that can occur in four and a half thousand million?

Why can’t these Biblical Christians see how easily understood these “irreducibly complex” things are as the end result of this incredibly long process of nature weeding out that which does not serve the organism and its accentuation of that which does? Because they don’t have the tools to, nor do they ever want to posess them. Such tools themselves are considered sinful. Hence they are blithely unaware of so many of the fine details of this world, because you can only really learn to perceive these fine details by loving science enough for you to learn how to think in an ordered, scientific manner. You certainly can’t learn to see them by reading the Bible. When the Bible was written, nobody could see them.

(Which brings up the question of why, if the Bible was written by God, did He never mention in it anything more advanced than what the people of that day themselves knew...)

It’s actually an even more basic problem than human ignorance. It’s the age-old seemingly instinctual conflict between the belief-based and the reality-based. The people that turn away from the future and embrace the supposed security of the past, and the people that learn from the past and the present so as to create a better future.

As ever, when the "distant past belief-based mindset" meets the "future of our species fact-based mindset," it tries to kill it immediately out of fear of it eventually factually proving its precious beliefs wrong. Failing that, it hates it and calls it names, thus proving itself not only the most primitive modality of human thought, but also as you would expect from that, the most immature.

Names like terrorist, for instance. You betcha.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Liberal Dictator

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
- Kenneth Galbraith

"Of all the varieties of virtues, liberalism is the most beloved."

"As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality."
-George Washington

"Somebody came along and said 'liberal' means 'soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on Communism, soft on defense, and we're gonna tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn't have to go to work if they don't want to.' And instead of saying, 'Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave it to Beaver trip back to the '50s,' we cowered in the corner and said, 'Please don't hurt me.'"
-The West Wing (Television show)

“The Liberal Dictator”

Many conservative Christians label liberals as effete, snobbish, un-American immoral godless heathens ever in search of their own gratification, living by selfish “Darwinian” mores and dying alone with no solace of God or the afterlife to buoy them in their last hours.

According to them, we liberals are craven and pathetic indeed. Oh, and we’re all going to hell, of course.

Since religion has become inextricably intertwined with the conservative Republican Party we have to take that into account as well. Now they claim to have the moral high ground simply because they’re convinced that they’re the side that God is on.

Well, so was Hitler. “Gott Mit Uns.”

I’ve heard many Christian conservatives insist that Hitler wasn’t a Christian, that in spite of all the times that he claimed to be one and in spite of how he co-opted the religion and its symbolism for his Nazis, he was not a Christian, and even if he thought that he was, he wasn’t a “real” Christian, since no “real” Christian would act that way, would act in so “un-Christlike” a manner.

That seems a bit silly to me, since it reduces the number of real Christians in the world to like twenty-seven. But what the heck, I’ll play along.

Christians will also mention that Stalin, Lenin, and Pol Pot were all atheists. Which seems to support their point that being religious is not necessary to being a dictator.

And they’re right. Being religious is not a prerequisite to being an evil dictator. I will grant the point to them at long last. I finally agree. It can definitely help you to be a more efficient evil dictator, but it’s not a prerequisite.

Being a conservative is, though.

Hitler may have been a Christian, but even if he wasn’t, and instead was the “athiest” atheist ever to walk the planet, he most certainly was a conservative. There’s no denying that.

What of Stalin, Pot, Lenin, and all the rest of the known dictators past and present, religious and atheist?

All conservatives. It’s the common denominator.

In fact, the very definition of the word liberal runs contrary to the necessary tactics and philosophy of the dictator. It’s actually impossible for a dictator to be a liberal. There is no such thing as a liberal dictator. Not now. Not ever. Every single one in all of history has been a conservative. Authoritarianism is immiscible with liberalism. Like oil and water. They cannot coexist in the same individual.

Conservatives persist in maintaining that their way is the better path, that their way is the optimal, that their way is the only smart way to run a country. They continue denigrating liberals, and have made even the word “liberal” itself into a slur. A word that means “open-minded” and “forward-thinking” is now a slur. They foment anger and hatred and they just love the politics of division. They keep secrets from the people and approve of torturing our enemies. They attempt to repress the freedom of the press by making them out to be biased when they’re not. They refuse to testify when subpoenaed, claiming higher authority. And they have gutted our constitution and have given themselves as much power as they could get away with giving themselves, which turned out to be a lot. Not to mention the big one, starting an un-necessary war for a distraction. (oh crap, I mentioned it)

We were told that if we forget the past we’re doomed to repeat it, but the conservatives ask us to do just that.

Well, not me.

Instead, I’ll keep asking this question whenever a conservative tells me how worthless being a liberal is:

“Which one out of all the evil dictators, tyrants, and despots in the entire history of the world, past and present, was a liberal?”

I like the sound of silence that follows.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Nature of Pride

"I love the evil man who knows that he is evil more than the righteous man that knows he is righteous. Of the evil people that consider themselves righteous, however, the following is said: "They do not even turn away at the threshold of the underworld." For they imagine that they are being led to hell in order to redeem the souls there.
-Tales of the Chassidim

"The biggest egomaniacs always see themselves as being modest, along with every other good thing. It's inconceivable to them that they're really shallow and self-centered. That's precisely why they are."
-St. Brian the Godless

The Nature of Pride

One of the things you won’t have any trouble finding Christians to agree with you on is the notion that excessive Pride is a bad thing. In the Christian religion Pride is in fact considered to be one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” along with Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, and Envy.

As well it should be.

And yet do most people, including most Christians, truly understand the nature of Pride, and why it was considered such a Deadly Sin? I would say from my observations of people in general and Christians in particular that they do not.

Here’s what the Bible has to say about it:

“The LORD despises pride; be assured that the proud will be punished.
Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall. It is better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”
Proverbs 16:5, 18-19
-Here we can see that to be humble we must relate to the poor and downtrodden and not with the successful and wealthy. Humility and grace are acts of lowering oneself to the level of the least among us, not raising ourselves to the level of the most powerful and wealthy. That way lies pure egotism.

"Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else."
Mark 9:35
-This hardly seems to refer to Joel Osteen and the Gospel of Prosperity, does it?

Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: "Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: `I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.'
But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, `O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored."
Luke 18:9-14
-This would seem to indicate that the Pride that the Bible describes consists of the type of thoughts and behaviors that serve to put ourselves above others, any others, even the very least among us. Even, and perhaps especially, those that we think are utterly wrong.
Incidentally it should be noted that in this passage Jesus chose to represent the Proud man as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were known to be strictly adherent to the scriptures and laws. They were the "Biblical Literalists" of their day.

Am I a victim of Pride? Most certainly. How do I know that? Because I have looked within myself for it, and have found it. Do I strive to eliminate it? Absolutely, with all my heart and mind. Why? Because I see what it does to others, and I also see that the others involved are always blind to it, and I don’t wish to fall into that trap. Pride is the most deceptive of all sins, or if you prefer, of all negative behavior patterns. It is the proverbial thief in the night. It is stealthy and almost invisible. Oh, it’s easy enough to see in others, but due to our human nature almost impossible to see within ourselves.

Now, as someone that battles with Pride, as we all should, I can also see that many Christians not only do not do battle with it, but actually mistake it for righteousness. They know that Pride is a sin of course, but they mis-define Pride in their minds as merely being too stubborn to believe in God as they do, and not as a general inflation of one’s ego that can happen to anyone, and which can in fact actually be due to one’s belief in God or in anything else for that matter. The problem here is that excessive Pride can form around any worldview that sets one’s self above any other groups. If I am told by my parents and my peer group that I am a member of the Chosen Ones, the Holy People that follow Jesus Christ and that this makes me a good person, and I come to believe that utterly, such “knowledge” on my part will inevitably inflate my ego and lead to excessive Pride on my part. It is not that dissimilar to being told for your whole life that you’re smarter than everybody else. Eventually you’ll come to believe it, even if it’s not true. And because it feeds the ego and because that feels so good, so "right," it’s pretty hard to resist if you don’t know the danger.

So I have to ask a question:

Is the man that knows that he is righteous, truly righteous?

If Pride is a sin, then by definition, he is not.

What of the man that maintains in his mind the attitude that he is not righteous, believes that he is just another sinner as we all are regardless of what we believe, and yet is not even concerned with that but instead simply loves people, all people, and strives to help them to the best of his abilities, regardless of whether he approves of what they believe about God?

If both men happen to be Christians, then which kind of a Christian deserves the name Christian more? And if the first one happens to be a Christian and the second man an atheist, who is in reality closer to God?