Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for July 2009

Jul/09

28

Gossipedia

[Note:  The editors at Taki's Magazine have kindly given me permission to reproduce the column below. Several Taki readers were kind enough to go into Wikipedia and amend some of the more egregious errors in my Wiki page. Whether their amendments will be accepted or not, I don't know. In any case, the Wiki page I am referring to will likely have changed, removing the sense from some of my comments. However, with that low cunning for which the English are well-known, I preserved an image of the original Wiki page here.]

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The first thing I noticed about my Wikipedia page, when someone directed my attention to it, was that they got my name wrong, there in the very first line!

Not the spelling — they at least managed to get that right — but the pronunciation. Their rendering in the International Phonetic Alphabet is  / ˈdɑrbɨʃər /  That includes two fricative-lingual r sounds. In fact there are no r sounds at all in the pronunciation of my name, fricative-lingual or otherwise. It is pronounced with pure vowels:  / ˈdɑːbɪʃə /  (DAH-bi-shuh). I refer interested readers to §773 of Daniel Jones’ classic Outline of English Phonetics:  “[I]n London English the r is never sounded when final or followed by a consonant.” The following §774, “Words for practising the omission of r,” is also helpful. Prof. Jones does not give a phonetic transcription of “Derbyshire” in standard English but he does, in §287, show  / ˈdɑːbɪ /  for “Derby.”

Trust me on this. It’s my name. I’ve been pronouncing it since the Truman administration.

The second thing I noticed was that my Wikipedia page was written by an AAM — that is, an Angry Asian Male. This needs a bit of explanation.

Among East Asian males, there is a large subgroup who are flipped into a mode of blind fury by the thought of Asian women consorting with non-Asian males. In the young-adult cohort of mainland-Chinese males, I would estimate the subgroup as about one in three. These are the AAMs. One recent target of their rage has been Chinese movie star Zhang Ziyi, whose affair with Israeli venture capitalist Vivi Nevo has stirred quite horrifying levels of vituperation against Ms. Zhang on Chinese-language blogs.

After hanging out among Chinese people for forty years on three continents, and having been married to a lady of Chinese ancestry for twenty-three of those years, I am exquisitely well-sensitized to the AAM mentality. I can, as it were, spot an AAM at five hundred yards. That the author of my Wikipedia page is an AAM shone out loud and clear.

In fact, you really don’t need to have my level of sensitization. Just look at that first subheading: “Conflicts of peoples.” Pure Chinglish — no native English-speaker would write that.

Having grasped that my Wikipedia page was an AAM production, I was not much surprised by its contents. For example: “During a debate with [white nationalist] Jared Taylor at the Robert A. Taft club in August 2006 Derbyshire joked that the only reason he was not an open white nationalist was because ‘it would get me in trouble at home’.” Did I?

Here is a precise transcription of the relevant part of the debate. You can listen to it yourself. It’s at 9m 22s into the “Question & Answer Period” audio clip. (The link on my Wikipedia page does not work directly — rather a lot of Wikipedia links don’t work — but if you scroll down on the error page you can find the audio file. Or you can just go here.) I am talking about Steve Sailer’s “citizenism” concept, which I agree with:

Our government, our authorities, ought to regard us all equally, and they ought to prefer our interests to the interests of the other six billion people in the world, which currently they don’t. I’m on board with that. I’m kind of on Steve’s side on that. I’m not a white nationalist. I’d be in trouble at home if I was. [Laughter.] But I agree with Steve: citizenism.

That’s what I actually said. Is it what Wikipedia says I said? Judge for yourself.

The following sentence on my Wikipedia page is — how shall I put it? — a bare-faced lie. To uncover the lie, you unfortunately need to listen to all 69 minutes of that “Question & Answer Period” audio clip. I guess my AAM-biographer calculated that very few people would be bothered to do this. I guess he is right.

My Wikipedia page is pretty much downhill from there.

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Now, I am not much bothered by this kind of thing. I have a congenitally thick skin — a terrific asset in the opinionating business. I did recently start thinking, though, that with a book coming out in the fall, I might be coming to the attention of a lot of people who know nothing about me. For some of them their first point of reference would be my Wikipedia page. Did I really want these innocents to get the AAM-slanted view of John Derbyshire?

I decided that I didn’t, and so set about editing my Wikipedia page.

This was not easy. For editing purposes, Wikipedia has a mark-up language all its own, a superset of ordinary HTML (in which I am fluent — in which, in fact, I am writing this post). There is also a mass of protocols concerning style, copyright permissions, and so on. I spent a few hours reading through all this, then set to work on my page.

It proved impossible to patch the thing up. It was too disorganized and unbalanced. I therefore rewrote it from scratch, striving to present a fair picture. (For example, I included more of the petty controversies I’ve been involved in, actually giving Derb-haters more material to feast on.) My finished product was, as best I could judge, well-organized, balanced, literate, and Wikipedia-compliant.

The rewritten page lasted just one day. Then the old AAM-angled page came back, and I got a message from the Wikipedia people saying that my rewrite was unacceptable because of “multiple style issues.” What were those style issues? They didn’t tell me, and there was no way to reply to the Wiki message. Perhaps the Wikipedia editors objected to my painstaking avoidance of crass Chinglish-isms like “Conflicts of peoples.” Or perhaps they were annoyed by the fact that all my links, unlike theirs, actually worked.

The only part of my rewrite that Wikipedia accepted was the photograph. So I can console myself with the reflection that readers of my Wikipedia page have at least an up-to-date portrait to go with Wikipedia’s gibberish “biography” of me.

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That’s Wikipedia for you. They can say what they like about you, employing any level of sub-literacy for the purpose, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do about it, even if you are patient and computer-literate enough to master their mark-up language. I had heard this, but just hadn’t believed they are really so brazen.

I had heard it from, amongst others, Irish journalist Kevin Myers, who, at the slightest prompting, will give you a passionate forty-five minute harangue on the evils of Wikipedia. There’s a Myers column on the topic here, from which:

So who are the people who founded and run Wikipedia? I don’t know, and nor have I any foolproof way of finding out, because the only way of doing so is by consulting Wikipedia itself: a hole-in-bucket solution to a hole-in-my-bucket problem … And so — do these wretched Wikipedia people ever lie awake worrying at the damage that the evil or the impressionable might inflict upon those who have been maligned in their uncontrolled and filthy internet gossip-shop, whose very power derives from the complete fiction that it is an “encyclopedia”?

I doubt it extremely: for of all the lies of our time, Wikipedia is surely the greatest.

I’m still not very worked up about this — nothing like as worked up as Kevin, for sure. Ninety percent of what you read about people in the public prints and forums is malicious lies. Any adult who does not know that should stop reading and take up fishing. Any public person who is bothered by it should retire into private life.

I’ll go on using Wikipedia for quick links to merely factual issues, assuming that my readers know there’s a level of unreliability even there. (Last year I looked up the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Agincourt. It was long, detailed, and informative, except that it had the English side led by Henry IV, who had been dead for two years when Agincourt was fought. I see they have since corrected this particular blooper, but no doubt there are a hundred thousand
just as egregious lurking on the Wikipedia pages. If, as I have heard, high school and college students rely on Wikipedia for factual information, our academic culture is in serious trouble.)

I do think it’s probably a mistake, though, for Wikipedia to include living persons among its entries. The opportunites for Wikipedia’s anonymous, unaccountable editors to work off grudges, conduct vendettas, and vent the milder, AAM-grade varieties of psychopathology are just too tempting.

There is, unless I am out of date, a rule that postage stamps may not depict anyone currently alive. I recommend the postage-stamp principle to the managers of Wikipedia. But then, what do I know? According to Wikipedia, I can’t even pronounce my own name correctly.

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I don’t know if there is some context to this Bill O’Reilly assertion that Canadian life expectancy is higher because of fewer people, and so fewer absolute fatalities (e.g., he got turned around on the words?). But it got me wondering, how do Canadian provinces relate to American states in terms of life expectancy at birth? It was easy to find male and female life expectancy online from the US and Canadian Census. Below the fold is a dot chart showing the male life expectancies rank ordered. Additionally, there is table (also sorted by male life expectancy) where I’ve bolded Canadian provinces and American states which border Canada. If readers are interested in demographic correlates of mortality, I recommend Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States.
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Jul/09

26

Fundamentalism & Terror

Here’s a review of Timothy Garton Ash’s new book by the distinguished British philosopher John Gray. The following  passages, in particular, caught my attention:

The reception of Garton Ash’s writings on Muslim fundamentalism is instructive in this regard. He provoked a firestorm by suggesting that Muslims in Europe would have to face up to an Enlightenment version of fundamentalism which demanded – as a condition of Muslims being accepted as Europeans – that they renounce their religion in favour of secular humanism. Such a demand was not only patently unrealistic, as Garton Ash himself pointed out, it also smacked of intolerance. Yet these are debates in which anything that looks like – or can be misrepresented as – an assertion of moral equivalence provokes immediate and intense condemnation. In a footnote to the original article, he writes that he has “long since abandoned the term ‘Enlightenment fundamentalism’, since it gives rise to the misunderstanding that some symmetry is suggested with ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ – a label now used almost synonymously with ‘terrorist’”.

 
As far as current discourse is concerned, Garton Ash has a point. Although they are often intolerant, today’s evangelists for secular humanism do not preach or practise violence. As he puts it, “there are no al-Darwinia brigades making bombs in secret laboratories in north Oxford”. On the other hand, the conflation of fundamentalism with terrorism is not supported by the facts. Fundamentalists are by nature illiberal, and most are more than happy to repress the freedom of others, but it is silly to portray them all as terrorists. Very few fundamentalist Christians support the murder of doctors who perform abortions – a type of terrorism that is fortunately rare, but terrorism nonetheless. Again, many Muslim fundamentalists support abhorrent policies against women and gay people, but that does not make them potential recruits to al-Qaeda.

 
Equating fundamentalism with terrorism is loose thinking…

 
This at least partly misses the point. It is of course true that the vast majority of fundamentalists are not terrorists in the narrow, going-to-work-for-al-Qaeda definition, but that surely is not the end of the matter. Terror can also be a tool of the state. To take the example of one notorious fundamentalist, Stalin used terrorist tactics when he fought against the Czar, but he was no less a terrorist when he was in power. When therefore we ask how fair it is to equate fundamentalism with terrorism, it’s necessary to ask not only how fundamentalists behave in opposition, but also how they would act in government.

 
On the question of Stalin’s ideological kin, Gray has this to say:

 

Equating fundamentalism with terrorism is loose thinking, but the biggest drawback is the loss of historical memory that making the parallel entails. Much of the state terror in the past century was secular, not religious. Lenin and Mao were avowed disciples of an Enlightenment ideology. Some will object that they misapplied this. And yet it is a feature of the fundamentalist mindset to posit a pristine faith, innocent of complicity in any crime its practitioners have ever committed, and capable – if only it is implemented in its pure, unsullied form – of eradicating practically any evil. This is pretty much what is asserted by those who claim that the solution to the world’s problems is mass conversion to “Enlightenment values”.

 

To suggest that Lenin and Mao were  “disciples of an Enlightenment ideology” may be a familiar line of attack, but that doesn’t make it correct. In fact, their ideology (such as it was) was drenched in religious tradition, Messianic fervor and simple bloodlust. It is better seen not as part of the Enlightenment tradition, but as a romantic, irrational reaction against it. As for being “secular”, well, yes and no. Traditional gods were merely replaced by a mystical belief in historical determinism and cults of state and ‘the people’. These may have come with a (sometimes only nominal) rejection of the supernatural, but they are difficult to describe as truly secular – at least in any meaningful sense.

H/t: The Daily Dish

Jul/09

26

Here be Dragons

Creationist Sam Brownback (for the senator’s own deeply disingenuous explanation of where he stands on evolution check here) is once again taking up the cudgels for junk science, this time with the introduction of a strange unnatural thing known as the Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2009 (co-sponsored by Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu in, I assume, a cheerfully cynical attempt to shore up her standing with some sections of her socially conservative state’s electorate). While I, for one, would not welcome the return of either Doctor Moreau or the Minotaur to this planet, this silly piece of legislation is, as Reason’s Ron Bailey shows here, not only based on some questionable science, but could, if passed, prove to be damaging to existing lines of research that are about as far removed from the monstrous as it is possible to be.

Politically however, proposing this bill has, sadly, some logic to it–at least if you see these matters through Brownback’s eyes. By not so subtly playing the Frankenstein card, this law is designed to exploit public fears of where genetic science could lead, and to use those fears to drum up support for Brownback’s own highly sacralized notions of what it means to be human. The penalties contained in the legislation (according to Ron Bailey, up to ten years in jail and/or a million dollar fine) are also striking, particularly as Brownback is (to his credit) something of a prison reformer, and is thus well aware of what incarceration in today’s America entails. Penalties on this scale are designed not only to shut down the lines of research that would be prohibited by the legislation, but also any research that risks coming anywhere close to anything that could be caught by Brownback’s law. That’s an old legislative trick, but it doesn’t make it any less dishonest.

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Jul/09

25

Intelligent Design as philosophy

The most recent Bloggingheads.tv features Ronald L. Numbers, author of The Creationists, and Paul Nelson, a Creationist and Intelligent Design advocate. The discussion is civil and well-informed, but as noted by some of the commenters on the Bloggingheads.tv site, it isn’t really about science. Rather, it is about philosophy and history of science. Scientists when discussing scientific issues really don’t talk the way that Ronald Numbers & Paul Nelson do in this diavlog. I pointed out years ago that the Intelligent Design movement is qualitatively different from the Creation Science movement, insofar as it is heavily-loaded on philosophers, while old-style Creationists tend to have applied scientists heading their movement (i.e., engineers and medical professionals). In terms of science, where the traditional Young Earth Creationists are simply wrong, the Intelligent Design movement is irrelevant. Where the two movements do come together is their fear that mainstream scientific is fundamentally atheistic, and that atheism will lead to social consequences. This attitude is pithily expressed in the assertion that if you teach people they are animals, they will behave as such. Though methods of the Intelligent Design movement tend to be oblique and exhibit the semantic circumlocutions of philosophy, their ends are concrete and sociopolitical. Contra Dawkins et al. most scientists do not view their project as part of a coherent and intellectually fulfilling worldview. Rather, most science is about describing and predicting fragments of reality, and within the past century mapping those models onto practical and concrete engineering solutions. Ronald Numbers’ defense of methodological naturalism by virtue of its fruits nods to these lived realities of science.
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Jul/09

19

12 Questions for Derb (cont.)

Hoo-ee, the commentators at Economist.com are even more rude and moronic than P.Z. Myers’, which I would not have thought possible. Is it naïve of me to be surprised?

Though at least Economist.com screens out the f-word.

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Jul/09

18

12 questions for John Derbyshire

Jul/09

18

Christian radio and moral decisions

I have been listening with considerable enjoyment to Christian radio, mostly KBRT, which is preset in the car I have been driving in Los Angeles.  Despite having wasted my college education on deconstructionist literary theory, I nevertheless still believe in the value of disciplined close reading and am touched by the devotion to the words of the Bible that many radio preachers evince, even if that devotion rests on a false apprehension regarding the text’s source.  I like the generally cheerful attitude towards self-improvement and the call to self-evaluation.  To be sure, there’s plenty of whacky and contradictory supernaturalism as well.  Todd White, who purports to cure even “High Priestesses of Satan” of such illnesses as sciatica with Jesus’ power, explained why Holocaust survivors should not have lost their faith in God: “God is not in control,” he said, arriving at a perfectly logical explanation for the daily slaughter of the innocents .   The next day, Wiley Drake, the pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church in Garden Grove, Ca., asserted more conventionally:  “God’s in control of everything.”  How we’re supposed to referee such conflicting claims is left unresolved.  (Wiley Drake has been in the news recently for his unapologetic embrace of “imprecatory prayer” to call for “President Barack Hussein Obama’s” death.  Drake argues unimpeachably that if you’re going to view the Bible as the word of God, you can’t edit out, as “some panty-waist, user-friendly preachers” do, the parts that no longer conform to our moral sensibilities, including the two dozen or so Psalms that revel in God’s willingness to mercilessly slaughter Israel’s enemies.   KBRT host Rick Buhler agreed with Wiley that reciting Biblical death wishes had nothing to do with voodoo and cheerfully reminded him: “Please let me know if I end up on your imprecatory list.  Bless you, Wiley.”)

 All this is illuminating and entertaining.  But however much I applaud the regular attention to self-inspection, nothing I have heard on Christian radio changes my view that moral reasoning is independent of, and a condition precedent to, religious injunction.    (And, a fortiori, religiously-inspired moral preaching says nothing about whether God actually exists.)  

 The really hard moral challenges are not much assisted by Biblical commands, it seems to me.  The Ten Commandments are a set of no-brainers—at least those not concerned with ensuring prostration before God.  No society would regard murder as legitimate behavior (though every society sanctions killing other human beings under various circumstances which the Bible does not spell out).  But how do you decide, say, where your responsibility towards another person begins and ends and how best to fulfill it?  If a friend, family member, or soul mate persists in engaging in what you believe to be self-destructive behavior, for example, how unrelentingly should you push for change, and when do you back off and say: “It’s your choice, I will desist trying to change you.”  Embracing an ethic of love doesn’t answer the question, which requires a nuanced exploration of our actual power over other human beings and our duty towards others, as well as a context-specific evaluation of our relationship to the person we hope to persuade and his willingness to be nudged or harangued.  Such dilemmas have only provisional answers, however much we might yearn for a stable answer from outside of ourselves.  Injunctions to make no idols and “have no other God besides me” are no help at all.

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Jul/09

16

Clarifying contrasts

Jul/09

15

The Right to Refuse Medical Treatment

Commenting on my earlier post in support of changing the law on assisted suicide at least in the case of a physically incapacitated individual who wishes to die but has no realistic way of achieving that objective for himself, ‘Mark in Spokane’ makes the following point:

Ah, the “million-dollar baby” scenario. Except that any person in such a situation, so long as they are mentally competent, already has the legal right — recognized both constitutionally and at common law — to refuse medical treatment. For example, if an individual is on a ventilator and does not wish to be, they can refuse further treatment with the ventilator. That is already provided for in the law, and there is no need to go changing things to allow for a “right to suicide” (which really means, “a right to get help committing suicide”).

Unfortunately, Mark’s argument only works in the case of the patient who is dependent on constant medical support (that ventilator, say) to keep him alive. There will be other patients able to linger on for quite some time without medical assistance. As matters currently stand, their only options are either to wait for nature to take its course-however long that might take-or to try to starve themselves to death. Neither alternative strikes me as particularly humane.

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