Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Hypothetical Dialogue: The Objectivity Problem

APOLOGIST: "Objective moral values must exist, because if they don't, then that means we have no basis on which to assert the morality or immorality of something."

ME: "I have my own opinion and moral codes. I find some things to be moral, and others to be immoral."

APOLOGIST: "But that's not objective! That's your opinion. I could just say my opinion is the opposite of yours, now we're even. Why should I care what your opinion is?"

ME: "Why should I care what YOUR opinion is? If I think killing is right (based on my opinion), and you think it's wrong (based on your opinion), then I could disagree with you and my opinion would be that your opinion is wrong."

APOLOGIST: "Yeah, exactly! It's all just word salad. It means nothing because it's subjective. But my opinion is based on an objective moral authority, my god, and so it has more weight."

ME: "What if I say that my opinion is based on an objective moral authority, bestowed upon me by my god, and so IT has more weight? We're back to square one. How do you decide who is telling the truth?"

APOLOGIST: "The Christian god is the only god that is just, because Christian morality is based on the grace of God and Jesus Christ, not based on actions."

ME: "Okay, so what if I say that my opinion ALSO comes from the Christian god? How do we tell which of us is correct?"

APOLOGIST: "We just look in the Bible and see what it says. Like for example, it says, 'thou shalt not kill,' so we know that killing people is objectively wrong."

ME: "But the Bible requires a lot of context and history to understand. I could easily just say that you misinterpreted what the Bible says --- the original Hebrew word used in that commandment, for example, more closely translates to 'murder', not 'kill,' and murder is defined as a wrongful killing; "wrongful killing is wrong" is just a tautology, so how do we decide what is wrongful and what is justified?"

APOLOGIST: "You just have to look elsewhere in the Bible. All the answers are in the Bible, you just have to read it with an open and unskeptical mind."

ME: "Alright, let's just skip ahead and take for granted that everything you say is true, that the Bible is flawless and that there is 'objective morality' and killing is wrong, and the Bible tells us how and when and why. My question to you, then, is: Why should I care?"

APOLOGIST: "Because it's wrong, by definition!"

ME: "So? What does that mean? How is that any different from saying that someone THINKS it's wrong by definition?"


ME: "So?"

APOLOGIST: "So you're saying you don't care what's right or wrong?"

ME: "I'm saying your definition of 'objectively moral' is meaningless. Speaking objectively, it has no more weight in reality than anyone's opinion. It's just as easily discarded, and it reflects nothing physical that can be confirmed scientifically. It has no criteria or results that can be assessed in context with one another, and so its value cannot be objectively determined. It's utterly meaningless, unless you choose to accept it of your own accord --- just like my opinion."

APOLOGIST: "Yeah, but there are consequences for not doing what is moral according to the Bible. You'll go to hell."

ME: "I could threaten you with a gun if you don't accept my opinion, so now there are consequences for not doing what is moral according to me."

APOLOGIST: "But your consequences are temporary. God's consequences are eternal; hell never goes away. You can only die once."

ME: "So it's a matter of power? God's decree is moral because he has more power to use for punishment than anyone else?"

APOLOGIST: "No, it's moral because it's god's law!"

ME: "So?"

APOLOGIST: "This conversation is stupid."

ME: "Yes. Yes it is. I'm glad we've reached that understanding."

CONCLUSION: Here's the this world, the Appeal to Morality DOESN'T work as a binding principle. If you tie me up and tell me you're going to kill me, and I say, "Please don't, that would be immoral, because god says it's immoral," and you kill me anyway, what has changed? How is that situation any different from the same situation, but in a world where objective values don't exist, other than consequence? If consequence is the only reason you think something is immoral, you're reducing morality to "might versus right," which is not an issue of morality at all but rather of who has the most power to assert his or her own (subjective) opinion.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conservatism Vs. Conservatism? A Brief Comparison

I wish that there was some way to better-document the history of our society and our government on a much wider, more definitive scale, but in such a way that it was easily searchable, easily understandable, to someone (like myself) who missed out on many generations of politics and current events due to not having been born yet (or being too young to comprehend them as they were happening). Something like the internet, but even more specific, even more definitive, even more responsive to vague or incomplete search terms.

Why? So that it would be easier to communicate the abrupt shift in the right wing of American politics over the last 30-40 years or so. Just a few decades ago, Barry Goldwater would've been considered "far-right" --- and he was pro-gay rights, personally against abortion but pro-choice, and held many views which, today, are considered "liberal extremist" by anyone in even the remote right wing. Now, a children's movie with an environmental message has been dubbed outright "liberal propaganda" by the right wing (and this is fairly warm on the heels of the accusation that Sesame Street is "racist" and "liberally biased" because it is targeted towards an audience of low-income families that may not have reading materials readily available for children).

And when you look at this effort to classify America as a "Christian nation," and you hear Sarah Palin say that the founding fathers put "Under God" in the pledge, and you see people point to "in god we trust" on the money (right next to "Novus Ordo Seclorum," for extra irony points), and you hear people like David Barton say things like, "see, all this evidence of us being a Christian nation just goes to show that we've been using the same time-tested "conservative" values system since the dawn of America, it's just these atheist liberals who are trying to suddenly change everything," you's one big fucking lie. Just 30 years ago, "conservatives" were something completely different from the ones we see today. These people are equivocating between two completely different *meanings* of the word "conservative" -- another good example, when (Republican) Eisenhower was president, he said that any party which tried to destroy social security would not be heard from again in our nation's political history (i.e. they would die out), because they do not represent the interests of the people:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
--President Dwight D. Eisenhower, l952

 And yet, what is the main economic effort of the GOP in stabilizing the budget today? Gutting social security, under the guise that, "well, we already 'borrowed' all of the money from it to give tax breaks to the top 1%, so we might as well just get rid of it, it's just too much of a 'hassle' to pay back all those taxpayers we're basically trying to defraud."

And so now, we're left with a party that, in an attempt to reconcile the rapidly-changing political sphere of the last 40 or so years with their nostalgia-laden delusions that "everything was fine before these damn libs came along," has rather suddenly taken upon itself the task of sifting through history and re-labeling anything that doesn't agree with this "new conservatism" as "liberal propaganda." For the record, "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss was first published in 1971. 1971, people. And only now, with a movie release on the horizon, is it considered "liberal propaganda" by FOX News. Because it has only recently come to be that environmentalism is an anti-conservatism, anti-GOP standpoint.

The saying is supposed to be that you learn from the past to shape the future, not change the past to control the future. I guess today's fragmented GOP really won't ever learn.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Metaphor Time! Religion as a Game

While we're on the subject of religion....I just wanna point out that a lot of times, Christians will point out that something is bad because it involves "worshipping other gods" or because it calls some entity (which is believed to be a separate being from their god) by the name "god," which implies that there are other gods besides the Christian God who are equal to him in some way. What I want point out in response is that God (in the Old Testament) never says there aren't other gods. He just says that he thinks he's the best god. So according to the Old Testament, there actually are other gods, they're fighting each other in some way, and it's just a matter of which god's side you are taking. This makes it more apparent why so many Jews and Christians see atheists as "enemies" --- they see us as taking the side of some other god, when in reality we're saying we don't believe in this whole other dimension of warfare at all. Except they also go one step further, and try to claim that saying this realm doesn't exist is actually the territory of a specific god, and so if you make that claim then you are by necessity worshipping another god! It's like making up the rules to a game, and assigning each player a role or character....and then saying that, if you don't want to play, well then that means you get to be [x character] or [y character]. Which is to say, the person making these rules up is completely missing the point.

Simply put: it's as if we're all kids on the playground, and you guys are playing Power Rangers, and we say we're not playing. So you say, "oh, then you're playing the bad guys, since you're not gonna be a power ranger." And I say, "no, I'm not playing at all. I'm not any of the characters." And then you come try to play power rangers with me and act like I'm playing, when I'm not. The take-home here being, I don't wanna play power rangers. And I certainly don't wanna play Jesus Rangers. So can I please just go play something else now? Or are you guys gonna keep following me around, trying to get me to try to convince you why I have a right to not play your game?


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Conservatism: A Mental Disorder?

EDIT: In case it needs to be stated....this is obviously a joke posting, not meant to be taken seriously from a medical standpoint. It's just a fun little diatribe I made up on the spot in response to (A) all the constant mainstream-G.O.P. namecalling towards liberals and the left that we've been seeing lately,  and (B) mainstream liberals' complete and utter refusal to fight back or defend themselves against this pointless and divisive slander. In other words, I'm being obnoxious, and if you don't like it, then well, take a hike.

After reading this, I've developed a theory..."conservatism" is an incurable mental disease, caused by an artificial airborne pathogen that was created in a lab by the G.O.P. and spread via a complex process (engineered in the same lab as a part of the virus' development) by using a vector catalyst to bond to the signaling particles in the waves used to broadcast live television programs. The virus works by bonding to those particles at Republican and conservative propaganda bases, where the virus is already abundant (like FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck), following them as they're sent out nationwide, and when they make contact with organic tissue, a pre-installed vector catalyst causes a replacement reaction wherein the virus detaches from the carrier molecule and infects the organic tissue. It then burrows straight for the nervous system, where it is carried immediately towards the brain, at which point it begins a cancer-like process of attacking cells and replacing their DNA with its own at an erratic and uncontrollable pace. Within mere hours, a person can experience symptoms of conservatism.

If you or anyone you know experiences any symptoms (to be described farther down), IMMEDIATELY contact a library, science museum, reliable internet source, or any other fact-checking service; the longer the disease is allowed to promulgate the nervous system, the more difficult it becomes to cure, even with extended exposure to facts (AKA "Fact Therapy"), and if it aggravates into its later stages, it can become almost completely incurable.

Although in the late stages of conservatism, "Critical Thinking Therapy" has been shown to have some effects (and has even been demonstrated to completely reverse the process in some rare cases), it is highly unlikely that the virus will allow the brain to function at the requisite level for Critical Thinking Therapy to commence. There is even a particularly dangerous strain called "Religious Conservatism" that is basically incurable once its later stages have set in. Do not play with your life or that of your loved ones; if you experience systems, GET HELP IMMEDIATELY. Don't let conservatism happen to you or your loved ones. Keep a container of facts or scientific evidence nearby at all times, and think critically whenever new claims enter your brain.

The most common symptoms of Conservatism or Religious Conservatism may include:

(1) Irrational hatred of Black Presidents, "liberals" (a term coined by the infected to describe the uninfected), people who are financially dependent on others, gays, women, atheists and other minorities (racial and philosophical);

(2) Ignorance of a topic, plus an extremely zealous fervor regarding the topic (i.e. being "against evolution" when you don't actually know anything about evolutionary theory). Please note that these symptoms must be observed in tandem to indicate conservatism (i.e. ignorance of a topic, in itself, is not a symptom; it must accompany an aggressive claim to one stance or another on the topic);

(3) Religious worship of pure, laissez-faire economic capitalism (as well as believing that this means that all the world's problems can be solved by raising taxes on the lower and middle classes while giving billion-dollar tax breaks to major international corporations). This symptom may be accompanied by #2;

(4) Inability to see anyone who doesn't own a business as a human being (also called "Corporagnosia"); also frequently occurs along with #2 and #3;

(5) General disregard, or even outright disdain, for the safety, fate or welfare of fellow human beings;

(6) Contradictory behavior (such as insisting that Welfare and Social Security/Medicaid/Medicare are "unconstitutional," while citing as a source belief for this a constitution which proclaims in its very preamble to build a government that 'promote[s] the general welfare' of the population); this is thought to be strongly fueled by a combination of symptom #5 or #2, plus a deficiency of Critical Thinking, and can in some cases be alleviated via a strict regimen of Fact Therapy;

If you experience any of these symptoms, ask your doctor about Fact Therapy or Critical Thinking Therapy as soon as possible. Don't let this disease beat you; even if you are diagnosed, it's entirely possible for a person to undergo treatment and live out a completely normal life. Don't be a conservative; be a conservatism *survivor.*

(There is another semi-dangerous strand of conservatism known as "Libertarianism," but it is not nearly as widespread and its symptoms are more erratic, and so it is often classified as a separate disease.)


Thursday, January 5, 2012

What I Can't Imagine: Why People Care About This

I'm an atheist. I've been one for awhile. Sometimes I get angry about things, politically or socially. I write aggressive posts on websites, I drone on and on in angry rants in the comments sections of various blogs, and at times I'm known to make vitriolic Facebook status updates. Usually, I try not to do this unless there is substantial reason for it --- such as when I feel someone's human rights are being violated, or that someone is being willfully obtuse for the sake of tapping into religious or political privileges. As such, I am usually pretty much "in tandem" with most of the atheist community online --- I echo many of the sentiments of people like Friendly Atheist, Matt Dillahunty and the crew at The Atheist Experience/Non-Prophets/Godless Bitches, Pharyngula, etc. I watch fiascos like the so-called "elevatorgate," and this recent deal with Penn Jillette and some other blogger I've never heard of until now, with fascination, to see if I can learn something or come to an understanding as to why people are so damn stupid (and suddenly prone to spouting ignorant sexist slander and lumping anyone they disagree with into the camp of "bigot" or "mysogynist"), and maybe examine my own behaviors and see if I'm doing anything which could be considered objectionable.

Then, there's stuff like this.

Now, as I've mentioned before, this may be just because I'm involved in a number of musical projects myself, but I don't particularly care for the atheist community's reaction to this deal with Cee Lo Green changing the lyrics to "Imagine." For one --- brace for blasphemy! --- I'm not a John Lennon fan. But even if I was --- or even if this had happened to a song I liked, like Bad Religion's "Won't Somebody" --- and Cee Lo had done the same thing, guess what? I still wouldn't care. You know why? Because I do the same thing all the damn time. Like earlier this year, when my solo project "T3" unofficially did a gag cover of the song "Jesus Is My Friend" by Sonseed, where we changed the lyrics to be about being raped by Jesus. It was changed this way to reflect exactly how creepy the song already sounds --- there's even a version on youtube with certain words censored to create the illusion that it's actually really filthy. That's what gave me the idea in the first place :)

Anyway, as you can hear, the words are pretty explicit, and quite the opposite of what the artist originally intended. To me, that's part of artistic freedom --- irony falls under fair game in my book. I'm not the only one who does this, or even CLOSE to the first: bands like Dead Kennedys and The Offspring have been doing it for decades, recording a cover of a song and twisting the lyrics to be completely different.

Not that I expect the atheist community to go back and make a stink about these albums that have been out for decades, just to be consistent (there wasn't much of an atheist community to speak of in the '90s or '80s, so I'm not surprised that they didn't freak out back then anyway, even if they had wanted to). I just hate that people are suddenly acting as if this has never been done before, or that it's some kind of egregious offense. It's not! The fact that nobody cares about the two examples I listed above is proof of that. So then maybe it's something else? Maybe it's just because Dead Kennedys and Offspring were never really that famous? Maybe just because punk isn't that popular? But see, that's completely irrelevant. If you don't care that DK and Offspring did it with some other song you don't care about, then there's no reason to freak out when Cee Lo Green does it. It makes no sense!

I get the sense that atheism is the only reason anyone's mad here. It's not that anyone feels truly slighted based on some musical code of honor (despite everyone's insistence that this is the case), or that Mr. Cee Lo's lyrical adjustment has done any sort of harm --- as much as fans of Lennon will insist otherwise --- but rather, that he changed the lyrics from sounding vaguely atheistic to sounding vaguely religious. I would guess that they feel mocked, but even after Mr. Cee Lo's attempt to clarify, where he blatantly came out and basically said, "hey guys, I didn't mean to be exclusive at all" (which, to me, was more than enough, although I didn't have a problem with his cover to begin with), I just don't believe that. They're just butthurt that someone did it to them for a change. We all get together and laugh whenever some laid-back rock band does a funny cover mocking an old song that's NOT vaguely atheist-sounding, but if you so much as change one lyric to "Imagine" by John Lennon, you're committing some huge blasphemy and the whole internet explodes.

As someone who places a lot of stock in the atheist movement in the US, I find this entire attempt to make a "debacle" out of this to be shameful. It's ridiculous. I stand by my claim that, if Mr. Cee Lo had changed the lyrics to any other song to make them contradictory, nobody would care. This is not an issue of covering a song or changing a song's meaning, and I call bullshit on anyone who says it is. Changing the meaning to a song through a cover has never been a big deal in any scene or genre I'm aware of. Let's all be emotionally mature, and intellectually honest enough, to admit this, to realize that everyone gets to play that game, not just atheists, and let's move the fuck on to something that's actually important.

--Tim D.

PS I brought my flame shield. So anyone who wants to lambast me for "dismissing a serious concern" or some other bullshit is free to take a shot.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Is Dead

Early this morning, a friend pointed out a link to me on informing me that Christopher Hitchens, famed essayist, speaker, reporter and outspoken militant atheist, has died after a long battle with esophageal cancer. And of course the first thing I had to do was drop an article about him to the best of my abilities --- a personal tribute, if you will.

Christopher Hitchens was my first of the "new atheist" authors, whom I had checked out on a whim after hearing about him from a lot of friends (mostly Christians) who had dismissed him as "an asshole" or "hateful." In a similar vein to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (which I later read under similar pressures), I read the book and was fascinated by how visceral and coherent it was: Hitchens eviscerates all religions with equal scrutiny, expressing an unsubtle but (as I felt after reading it through) entirely justified scorn for unreasonable ideas about the supernatural and about the fate of humans before life or after death --- from pedophile priests to killer monks in the east to religious zealots running for political office here in the west, Hitchens took no prisoners and could not be bought. He even famously made enemies of Mother Theresa for glorifying suffering as being "closer to Jesus," and for her public dishonesty about her doubts and views.

Clearly, the man was not ashamed to speak his mind. And for this, I consider him a brave inspiration --- it was actually during the reading of his book that I was subject to a "religious backlash" at work, the first time where I began to realize exactly what awaited me in my future life as an atheist in the deep south "Bible Belt" of America. The book was defaced (and I still have that copy right here, as a sort of prize of efforts), and both my general manager, as well as several of my co-workers at the time, tried to convert me on the spot and would not take no for an answer for a good while. Prior to that incident I had already adopted the moniker "atheist" (thanks in part to Hemant Mehta of, but I had remained decidedly low-key about it in public for fear of rousing such reactions from overly-sensitive religious people. Once that happened, though, I realized that if people wanted to take the fight to me, then there wasn't much I could do to stop it. So I started being more open with my beliefs, and resisting people's efforts to assume that I was Christian or otherwise religious --- if someone made a comment assuming I was a Christian, such as, "what church do you go to?" I would now respond, "oh, I don't go to church, I'm an atheist." Whereas before I might have said, "I don't go to church that much anymore," or something to loosely give the impression that I might be Christian but not enough to spark a real debate.

All of that may or may not have happened if I had not brought "God Is Not Great" to work out of curiosity; the intolerance of others made me realize that I, myself, had been too tolerant of their intolerance. So you could say that it was thanks to Christopher Hitchens and his book that I had my first real "run-in" as an atheist, the one that would inform my future attitudes about how I approach my atheism publicly. It's an amazing thing for me to notice now, but looking back, I seemed to have this unspoken, unarticulated belief that these religious people were somehow "right" for being offended at my atheism, that I was really doing something to "make them uncomfortable" simply for disagreeing with them about the nature of the universe. Once I saw the way Hitchens honestly and unapologetically presented his views, without the slightest consideration for how the overly religious fanatic might receive them, I realized that I could very well assert myself without worrying about what my Christian "friends" would think of me. I realized that I needed to stop making important social decisions based on how well I will still be able to get along with sectarian Christians. I realized that if these people were really going to wholly discount me as a human being just because I say I am an atheist, then I need to find some new friends. I've done nothing wrong. you may have noticed thus far, I have only had the fortune to read one of Hitchens' books, the aforementioned "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." And I am very sad that I was never able to speak to the man personally, however briefly I may have ever had the opportunity to do so; and upon reading of his death, I was struck with the certainty that I have not been appreciating his works as much as perhaps I should. So I immediately added "Letters To A Young Contrarian" and "Hitch-22" to my Holiday List~

 I'm sure I'm not the only one who found Hitchens' forthcoming attitude to be a refreshing inspiration amongst the din of religious platitudes and bigoted nonsense in today's mainstream media and social interaction. So if you want to leave a comment (short or long, I don't care) offering your thoughts on him, or how he or his work has influenced you or someone you know, feel free. As for me, I'm closing with some of my favorite clips of Mr. Hitchens at his best, as well as a song I wrote that was heavily inspired by his moral argument against Christianity.

"Best of the Hitchslap:"

"...and I'll tell you something, if I was told to sacrifice [my children] to prove my devotion to god, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do, and admire the man who said, "yes, I'll gut my kid to show my love of god," I'd say, no, fuck you." --Christopher Hitchens

"Now, let’s take a case of someone who’s been dealt a bad hand. What about Fraulein Friesel, in Austria, whose father kept her in a dungeon, where she didn’t see daylight for twenty-four years, and came down most nights to rape and to sodomize her, often in front of the children who were the victims of the previous attacks and offenses. I want you just to take a moment to --- since you’re so interested in the downtrodden and the helpless --- imagine how she must have begged him. Imagine how she must have pleaded. Imagine for how long. Imagine how she must have prayed everyday, how she must have beseeched Heaven. Imagine, for twenty-four years. And no. No answer at all. No-thing! Nothing! Now, you say, ‘That’s all right, that she went through that, because she’ll get a better deal in another life?’ Are you --- I have to ask you if you can be morally or ethically serious and postulate such a question? No, that had to happen, and Heaven did watch it with indifference, because it knows that that score will later on be settled. So it was well worth the going through it, she’ll have a better time next time. I don’t see how you can look anyone, anyone, in the face, or live with yourself, and say anything so hideously, wickedly immoral as that, or even imply it. There. That’s my answer." --Christopher Hitchens

"I know what's coming, I know no one beats these odds. And it's a matter of getting used to that, and growing up and realizing that you're expelled from your mother's uterus as if shot from a cannon towards a barn door studded with old nail files and rusty hooks. It's a matter of how you use up the intervening time in an intelligent and ironic way, and try to avoid doing anything ghastly to your fellow creatures." --Christopher Hitchens

"A Life of Love and Happiness" (Hitchslap #69):

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature; the heart of the heartless world; the spirit of the spiritless situation; it is an opiate for the people. The demand to give up its illusion is to give up the condition that requires illusion...criticism has plucked the flowers from the chain, not so that men and women may wear the chain without consolation, but so that they may break the chain and cull the living flower." --Christopher Hitchens, correctly quoting Karl Marx on religion
"Man Made God In His Image" (Hitchslap #66):

"God did not make man. A single creator did not make us. Our species, mankind, instead made, and continues to make, many hundreds of thousands of gods, gaining the hope --- the vain hope --- of certainty and, in some cases, of the hope of being able to establish a secular tyranny of rule by men over men, but to say that these men have divine warrant for what they do. Which has led, as you know, to the stifling and near-destruction of civilization. Now, if you don't believe that there is a Creator...I don't see in what sense at all you are religious. And so I again resent the idea or the implication of extremism. It is the essence of religion to say that there is a creator, and that though we may not know his mind entirely...we may interpret his wishes. And that these can be conveyed by a priesthood to humans. If you don't believe it --- and I don't --- then in a very non-extreme way, you have ceased to be a religious person. And I say, man made gods, and not the other way around." --Christopher Hitchens

"[you say] that the examples of religiosity that I adduce are extremist beliefs. Now, they're not. All the ones I've offered you are the mainstream, essential, A-B-C of religion. The first of which is that in the beginning, god created the cosmos. To the contrary, I say, the gods that we've made are exactly the gods you'd expect to be made by a species that's about half a chromosome away from being a chimpanzee." --Christopher Hitchens

And last but not least, my personal tribute to Christopher Hitchens....a very personal song that I wrote for my band T3, in July of this year, that was directly inspired by the Fraulein Friesel quote from above, so much so that I included it as a clip at the end of the track.

I suspect that millions of Christians, Muslims, and others are probably celebrating Hitchens' death. Some are probably calling it a "judgment from god," or a "punishment for speaking out." Well, if Mr. Hitchens were still alive, I'm sure he would wear their contempt as a badge of honor --- that they had ever considered him such a threat would probably be more of a compliment than he could ever ask for.

RIP Christopher Hitchens,
--Tim D.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ayn Rand: Straw Vulcan

Been skimming skepticon videos on youtube, and I came across this little gem. It's long, but you may want to give it a watch in your spare time one day. It's quite informative:

Contrarily, if that's too long for you, you can just read this page instead. It's the gist of it (and it's also the source of the term used in the video).

But anyways, I've been researching Ayn Rand these last few days, out of bile fascination, and as I was watching interview clips with her (also on youtube), I realized something: Ayn Rand is a straw vulcan.

First thing's first: what *is* a "straw vulcan?" If you watch the video (or read the TVtropes entry), you'll see. But in case you're just that short on time, here's the rough explanation (from the link):

A straw man used to show that emotion is better than logic. It starts by having characters who think "logically" try to solve a problem. And they can't. Either they can't find any answer, or they're caught in some kind of standoff, or they're even stuck in a Logic Bomb-type loop. Once this is established, someone who uses good old human emotion comes up with a solution that the logical thinker can't. This provides An Aesop that emotion is superior and that the logical thinker shouldn't trust logic so much. This is, of course, a broken Aesop. Fiction often gets the concept of logic wrong in a number of ways.

Anyways, I was watching this smack piece against Ayn Rand, and one of the interviews featured therein stuck with me a little:

At approximately 2:48, the following exchange occurs:

Interviewer: "Christ -- every important moral leader in man's history --- has taught us that we should love one another. Why, then, is this kind of love, in your mind, immoral?"

Rand: "It is immoral if it is...placed above oneself."

It's not exactly the same thing as a straw vulcan....but it's very close. "Love" is a weakness; reason is being misapplied in order to arbitrarily "rule out" things like human emotion and love as "weakness." The only difference is, in the case of the straw vulcan, it's a poor literary technique used to set up the character for a fall, to demonstrate that pure reason supposedly doesn't work. In this case, Rand seems almost completely unaware of the irony of her position....Ayn Rand's philosophy of "objectivism" assumes that there are humans who are "self-sufficient" in the sense of being completely, universally independent of other humans to provide for their own basic needs.

The problem is, the capitalist system (around which her philosophy is necessarily centered, in defense --- or rather, worship --- of property rights, even to the exclusion of the value of human life*) is based on the idea that humans will require services of one another. You can't get rich without the cops protecting your property and other people's taxes paying those cops' salaries. You can't run a business without other people who are poor enough to want to work under you. You can't even go out to eat, or work on your car, unless you either (A) have a skill set pertaining to whatever activity you're carrying out (nobody has professional experience in all possible fields, so reductio ad absurdum here is an inevitability), or (B) know someone who has that knowledge and is willing to share it with you or use it on your behalf.
The capitalist system is based on this interaction and is designed to facilitate it. Hence, capitalism = human interdependence, not independence. We depend upon each other. That's not weakness, it's human nature.

All of which is to say....Rand is a straw vulcan because she portrays herself as "reasonable" and "logical" to the exclusion of the "weakness" of human emotions such as love and compassion, without realizing that a truly reasonable person would acknowledge that human emotion is a necessary component of human functionality, and that individual prosperity is inherently linked to social prosperity because of our need for each other's skills and company.

Now....before you Ayn Rand fans go bashing me for "not understanding" her philosophy, or for rejecting her out of hand....that's not to say that I am completely trashing her. This is not meant as a political statement. Another video that caught my eye was this one:

Now I'm no Ralph Nader fan by any stretch, but I did find myself swayed ever-so-slightly by his argument here. He, too, finds her philosophy "abhorrent," but he also provides an interesting justification for why she may have come about with such a philosophy: having lived with a communist background, she has seen the extreme end of what complete and utter forced selflessness can produce, and so has "lived the extreme." Nader's theory (which I find, in its simplicity, surprisingly satisfactory) is that her overly-selfish philosophy is a sort of over-reaction against her experience with communism and socialism. I can understand that to a degree, and so with that in mind I can say I respect Ayn Rand a little more than I did before --- even though I still disagree with pretty much all of her philosophy.

--Tim D.

*=in truth, this is a criticism that is more aptly leveled at her present-day followers and worshippers, not as much to the woman herself (although a case can be made thusly). In any case, I'm using it here more as a smack against her followers than against her personally.