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.