Sunday, November 30, 2014

Solitude in Theism

One reason I've never felt particularly in sync with other Christians is that my belief in God A) is logically prior to my belief in Christ, and B) my commitment to Christianity is based partly on willful commitment, alongside rational persuasion - with emotional investment taking the hindmost.

I never had a moment, as near as I can remember, where I suddenly had tears in my eyes at realizing the presence of a loving God who wanted a personal relationship with me and who really loved me. I'll go further - I find people for whom this kind of experience is key to their theism (or the lack of it, the key to their atheism) to be... pretty weird, frankly. I'm ill at ease around people whose emotions seem to drive their intellectual lives, rather than the reverse, even if I'm on the same page with them politically and religiously.

One problem with this is, there's very little social space for people with the attitude I have. There is no real group for people convinced by mere theism, and the belief in God or gods or designer, in and of itself, gets treated intellectual as at best a waypoint towards an ultimate religious destination. This, lack, I think, is one of the current and largest cultural mistakes, one that needs addressing. Intelligent Design came within a razor's edge of addressing it, but ultimately was sandbagged by a combination of a dishonest and vicious media treatment, as well as - to be frank - a substantial portion of their own membership treating the entire thing as a Christian project.

That means I've been pretty isolated for a long time when it comes to the question of God's existence, because - even if I'm Catholic, even if I'm pretty damn orthodox - I'm just approaching the whole question in a way that is utterly alien to most people, and I know it.

Luckily I'm a guy who prefers isolation to the usual alternatives.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving! Have some Ferguson commentary.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

For now, I'm only going to give a very brief description of an exchange about Ferguson, aka the Savage Lands.

A: Look, there's only one fact that matters in the Ferguson shooting.
Me: What's that?
A: He was shot seven times in the back, while he was running away. That's totally indefensible, and you shouldn't be surprised that people are outraged.
Me: Uh... that never happened.
B: Yeah, that got disproved a while ago. See these links.
A: ... Oh.
A: Well he was shot six times, that's completely unjustified.

What I loved about this exchange was the complete ease with which 'the only fact that matters' didn't matter whatsoever the moment it turned out the supposedly most important evidence went in the exact opposite direction he thought it did. Without much prompting, this guy laid out his position, took a strong stand (despite apparently not even following the case), and the moment his information (which he himself expressly regarded as utterly decisive) turned out to be complete bunk, he responded by... finding a whole new way to accept the opinion he previously held.

He did not noticeably pause and consider, even for a moment, that his complete failure to even be informed about the topic - to say nothing of getting a key fact wrong - should temper the certainty of his opinion, or challenge his view.

As near as I can tell, this guy is not the exception when it comes to how people reason.

He is the rule.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Inequality and Justice

As I've written, I don't think inequality in and of itself is ever unjust. The bare fact that A has 5 billion dollars and B has 40 thousand dollars and C has 5 dollars is not unjust - though I recognize saying as much involves some ash on the tongue for a lot of people.

That doesn't mean I think people - particularly wealthy people - have no Christian duty to each other. I believe they do, and that this duty involves (among other things) giving up wealth to help those who need it. But here, simply having wealth at one's disposal - not inequality, but the command of wealth - is going to be one of a number of factors in play in determining who has what duty.

More importantly, I think it's a mistake to play the game of thinking in the broadest possible categories, where 'the top 1% has a duty to the 99%'. It's a little like saying that 'men have a duty to children', as if all men have a duty to all children - even if you argue that all children ultimately had a father, it's still an insane way to draw those lines. Now, saying fathers have a duty to their offspring? That's better - more on target. Now we're not describing the relationship of one broad class to another, but individuals to individuals. It's more tractable, and in that case, more natural.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Wealth disparity is not unjust in and of itself

When people talk about gaps between the super-rich and everyone else, it's usually followed by the suggestion that it's somehow not right that one person has twenty billion dollars to their name, and the other person has fifty thousand.

What's odd to me is that the disparity itself is taken to be unjust, with no further details needed. No need to talk about the work, effort, capability, sacrifices or lack thereof of either party. The disparity is enough for many people to say 'the wealthy guy should split his share 50-50 with the less wealthy guy!'

If there's anything truth in the writings of that jackass Rand, it's in regarding attitudes like the above as not just immoral, but literally subhuman. There's no intellectual content there - just base and simple envy.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Failure of Marxism

One of the central concerns of Marxism was placing the means of production in the hands of the workers, and Marxists had serious trouble delivering on this front.

In Capitalism, the means of production turned into yet another product, and in considerable part - without much central planning at all - placed and continues to place said means of production in the hands of everyone who cares to have them.

There are problems with capitalism. But there's some bitter irony in that capitalist systems have managed to accomplish one of Marxism's main goals without the need for any particular policy at all.

Marxism failed for a number of reasons, but to argue that those reasons can be addressed and that Marxism can 'work' if only we apply fixes to it, is to make a critical mistake. Marxism is not just a failure - it is, in large part, obsolete.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Strawman Explained

The Strawman Chronicles are fun to write, but sometimes the point I'm trying to make gets a little opaque. That's the risk of being cute about this kind of thing.

So I'll clarify.

There are a lot of language tricks that go on in popular communication, in media and journalism. Most people aren't aware of them - they don't pay attention, and they pick up habits and ways of thinking practically by osmosis.

One of those little tricks is the whole left-wing/right-wing, conservative/"progressive" language game.

Stop me if you've seen this before: someone is stoned to death in a muslim country for some moral transgression. Adultery, owning a dog, converting to Christianity - take your pick. The news report makes sure to mention that this is due to the 'conservative' laws in the country, or the conservative mood of the state.

A nice, bright line is drawn between 'reprehensible action' and 'conservative'. It happens like clockwork, and this isn't news to anyone who's reading this blog.

A bit more subtle is, of course, how repressive left-wing governments get treated. When's the last time you read about an act engaged in by the communist, left-wing government of North Korea, and the news described their government (or their act) as left-wing, liberal, or progressive? When's the last time you've read about Hitler's socialist and left-wing policies, the death toll of Stalin and 20th century progressives?

As I said, that's a bit more subtle. But come on. What readers I have tend to be intelligent sorts. The above isn't news to you either.

So let's shift the focus. Instead of talking about the AP Wire, CNN, or God-forbid, MSNBC, let's talk about a different source of interpretation of world events.

Namely, you. The person reading this post.

Here's a direct question: would you call NAMBLA a left-wing organization? Progressive? More importantly, have you done this? When an organization like that has come up in conversation, when such sex acts have come up in conversation, did you yourself describe it as progressive, liberal, left-wing acts?

Here's my own reply. Until recently, I wouldn't have. I mean, NAMBLA... that's a group of child-fucking advocates. Left wing? It's odd to even think of them as political. It's... a bunch of freaks, right? Wingnuts. Limit cases on the fringes of society who are universally condemned. The same for child molesters. Not exactly on the short list of things even the most cranky of SJWs tend to speak up in defense of, normally.

Of course, I've never heard of even the most loudmouthed jackass specimen of right-wing Christian calling for gays to be stoned to death. I don't doubt such exist, on the fringes of society as I know it. But then, if we're going to those fringes, I imagine you  would find some defenders of child molestation too. Hell, you wouldn't even have to go terribly far - just go to those "feminist fathers" who talk about how their daughters are in complete control of their bodies so presumably they're A-OK with their 13 year old being a party favor at a frat, if she tells herself that's what she wants.

And yet there we are. It's been programmed in that one extreme action, utterly fringe in this entire country and most of western civilization, is right-wing, conservative. It's placed on the political spectrum. But other acts, quite horrific and distasteful, which have a pretty straightforward placement on that same spectrum (It's trivial to couch NAMBLA, bestiality, incest, etc in 'sexual liberation' and 'progressive' language), don't get placed at all. They're political poltergeists, presumed not to exist.

A bit like how same-sex marriage just wasn't a 'left-wing thing' until it was, you know. Popular.

Perhaps you're different. Maybe you'll tell me, "Crude, of course I know those things are left wing, and I've called them as much." To which I salute you, and admire your mental acuity. Me, I've not noticed this particular trick until recently - and I usually work damn hard to notice as much.

But if you're like me, and you've been tricked on this front, a word of advice - henceforth, label things appropriately. NAMBLA is a left-wing, progressive organization. Call it 'far left' or 'extremist' if you like - whatever is truly fair. But don't deny the left-wing, progressive nature of it.

Don't deny the left-wing, progressive nature of tolerated incestuous relationships. Or of bestiality. Or of adultery, general infidelity, and a whole lot more. And in general, try to be alert to areas where left-wing extremist politics have gotten a free pass and denied their proper label, whether by reflex or deliberate shielding.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Strawman Chronicles: The Far Right and the Far Left

A: Did you see the news? Conservatives in Iran sentenced another man to death for blasphemy.
B: Conservatives? Really?
A: That's what they are. Right-wingers. Everyone knows that.
B: You ever think that may be a mistaken way of looking at it?
A: Not really. It makes sense: they're taking their religious text very literally, which everyone knows is a conservative, right-wing habit.
B: Ah. So, Christians who believe in giving to the poor, who think that Jesus quite literally commanded charity, would be right-wingers? And greedy people, Christians who pursue wealth for wealth's sake, would be left-wingers?
A: Well, no. Care for the poor is obviously a left-wing, liberal concern.
B: Because caring for the poor, and an admonition against wealth for wealth's sake... that's not a literal reading of the Bible?
A: ...Well, maybe it is, but that's not the only standard. There's also a political dimension. Like believing in reproductive free
B: Butchering infants.
A: It's insulting to call it that.
B: Pity it's true.
A: Let's not get into that right now. Sexual freedom, questioning old taboos about sexual morality.. that's leftist, liberal. Progressive. It has nothing to do with the Bible.
B: I actually agree there.
A: Cute, because that's your way of saying gay love is...
B: Anal sex.
A: ...Whatever you want to call it, is un-biblical?
B: No, I have a different view in mind here.
A: Oh really?
B: So you'd agree that celebrating same-sex sexual acts is a liberal, progressive, left-wing position?
A: Certainly.
B: Premarital sex as well, of course.
A: Of course.
B: Adultery? Toleration of it, anyway?
A: I... well, not necessarily adultery. I mean, that's a violation of trust, and...
B: And a breaking of a taboo.
A: Maybe, if you want to split hairs, acceptance that sometimes people do wrong like that would...
B: No, not 'do wrong'. The conservative view is would be they're doing wrong. The progressive view challenges the conservative view, so adultery would be accepted. Even encouraged.
A: I know very few leftists who'd agree.
B: And I know very few conservatives who are up for stoning people to death for blasphemy.
A: ...
B: Let's keep going. Celebrating bestiality.
A: No.
B: Celebrating child molest...
A: NO. How DARE you try to...
B: Left-wing extremists, then?
A: What?
B: I'm compromising. I'm saying that tolerance for child molestation, for bestiality... those are far left concerns.
A: They aren't left-wing at all!
B: They certainly challenge the prevailing, traditional morality.
A: It's sick!
B: So they said about abortion.
A: It's mental illness!
B: So was homosexuality, until the 1970s. The 1990s, in Europe.
A: That's different!
B: Because?
A: I... ...
B: Because a right-wing extremist is supposed to be someone with a child's severed head in one hand and a gun in his right, while a left-wing extremist is supposed to be someone who loves the poor so much that they sell their kidney just to give a little more to charity.
A: Stop making me sound so knee-jerk. I know people have political views that come in degrees.
B:  Except your political enemies are supposed to have a monopoly on everything rotten, and your allies a monopoly on everything great. From there, it's just degrees. To be extremely right wing is equivalent to being extremely rotten. To be extremely left wing is equivalent to being extremely good. You're telling yourself you see things in degrees, but when your enemies can only be one of a million shades of black, and your allies all some shade of white, guess what? It's still black and white.