Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Archive for August 2010

Aug/10

31

On experts

On the Left right now they’re passing around a paper which suggests that immigration boosts median income. Since the modern American elite Left is pro-immigration they naturally take a shine to such papers, and my own impression from talking to economists is that a “pro-immigration” position is mainstream within the discipline. Fair enough. But how many liberals would accept the mainstream position on the minimum wage? Now all of a sudden I suspect you’d be hearing objections based on what the economic models leave out, how they’re oversimplified, etc.

Or, consider what happened with Ross Douthat’s column on assimilation, nativism, and anti-Catholicism. An individual who I was discussing the issue with pointed me to a historian who “debunked” Douthat’s assertion in a few sentences, stating plainly that Douthat was simply wrong. Stop!!! If a historian gives you a straight, black & white answer, without nuance, he’s telling you what you want to hear! Or, he’s telling you what he believes for normative, not positivist, reasons.

Aug/10

30

Judge them by their actions

Recently on bloggingheads.tv Michael Brendan Dougherty, a professing Catholic, suggested that anti-Catholic movements in 19th century America had a point. In this Dougherty seems to be aligning with Ross Douthat’s implication, that American reaction drove American Catholicism to counter-reaction, and through the synthesis emerged a genuine American faith. But, there is one aspect of what Dougherty is saying which I think we should be cautious of: he observes that the process of assimilation of Islamic religiosity into the Protestant-Catholic-Jew trichotomy will result in recitations of unpleasant verses of the Koran, just as Protestants quoted back some of the less liberal declarations of the Papacy in the 19th century.

(more…)

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Aug/10

28

Wanting to Believe

Religion or, to put it more loosely, “spirituality”, will always be with us. The only question is the form that it will take. This entertaining piece from the Daily Telegraph about crop circles is, in its own way, a reminder of just that:

Ask Francine what she gets from the circles and she replies: ‘A sense of wonder. Which is something not many people feel these days. We’re so dull, so suspicious, so limited in our way of thinking.’ She speaks, tenderly, about the beauty of the circles, of how the lain corn seems to ‘flow like water’, of how each formation teaches each person something more about the field they’re expert in: the American Indian finds a message from Gaia, the Tai Chi guru a new form of Tai Chi, the physicist – well, one physicist said to her: ‘Quantum physics? Forget quantum physics. This is far beyond.’…

…Irving [Rob Irving, the main author of The Field Guide: The Art, History and Philosophy of Crop Circle Making] thinks people want to take ‘a vacation from rationalism’. And, he adds, it’s particularly the case that ‘people associate certain landscapes with legends. That’s why circles come to sacred sites: Avebury and Stonehenge galvanise this idea of mystery. I see it as a feedback route: people go to a certain place with certain expectations. Then something happens and they leave satisfied.’

…We move back towards my car. A couple appears and the woman asks if we’ve been at the circle. They’re Inga and Erik, and they’re Dutch, over here to look at circles. They were at Chisbury yesterday, and it was perfect: they’re very keen to see the Cley Hill formation. And what, I ask, do they think brought the circles into being? Inga smiles, knowingly. ‘You mean, are they man-made, or not?’ She smiles again. ‘That’s mystic: that’s a mystery.’ And off they go, ready for a sense of wonder.

And if all that’s too much for you, just enjoy the comments from Doug Bower. Along with Dave Chorley he created the first crop circle back in the 1970s in the wake (apparently) of a session in the pub discussing UFOs. The two pranksters finally went public in 1991. As the Daily Telegraph’s writer notes, Doug told television cameras that there was nothing like being in a field of English corn at two in the morning, after a few pints and some cheese rolls, stomping corn.

Indeed there’s not. And yet still people believe. Or like to. Read the whole thing.

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Aug/10

28

The Dalai Lama, Again

Via PTI:

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama said today that China should learn religious harmony and non-violence from India. Describing himself “as the Son of India,” Dalai Lama, who was in Amritsar for a night halt on his way to Dharmshala, said that India was known all over the world for religious harmony.

Take it away Secular News Daily:

What on earth is he talking about?

Is he talking about the Gujarat riots of 2002, where Hindus enraged over what turned out to be an accidental train fire killed an estimated 2,000 Muslims and drove another 100,000+ from their homes, with the connivance of the local government? Only 11 people have been punished for this so far – they must have been awfully industrious. That’s fewer than the 14 people handed life sentences for the slaughter of another thousand Muslims at Bhagalpur in 1989, but that process took 17 years to complete.

Is he talking about the mass violence directed against Christians in Orissa at Christmas in 2007? The burning alive of a nun inside a Catholic orphanage the following year? The burning to death of an Adventist pastor and his mother inside his home, during a spree that saw 17 Orissa churches and over 500 other homes destroyed?

By religious harmony, does he mean the laws popping up in Indian states banning conversion from one religion to another, specifically targeted at Christian efforts to proselytize among Hindus? In Orissa, it now requires a permit from the police to convert from one religion to another.

Read the whole thing.

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Aug/10

26

Bracing vs. insipid

Kingmaker: Why Sarah Palin’s Endorsements Really Are That Big A Deal vs. Romney’s Problem in a Nutshell. I estimate that Mitt Romney’s IQ is around two standard deviations above Sarah Palin’s. That’s democracy.

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Aug/10

22

Apocalypse Now (Please)

I’ve long suspected that amongst those who believe that the apocalypse is just round the corner, a certain vanity may well be at work – the belief that their time is somehow special.

Now there’s this from Scientific American

Some researchers think that apocalyptic dread feeds off our collective anxiety about events that lie outside our individual control. The fear of nuclear war and environmental decay that gripped the nation in the 1960s was a big factor in the rise of the counterculture, says John R. Hall, a sociologist at the University of California, Davis, and author of Apocalypse: From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity. In this decade, civilization has suffered through even more fundamental threats. “After events like 9/11 and the Great Recession, as well as technological disasters like the BP oil spill, people begin to wonder—not just people who are fringe zealots or crazies—whether modern society is any longer capable of solving its problems,” Hall says. If the world appears to be going to hell, goes the thinking, perhaps that’s just what is happening.

The impulse is partially a consequence of our pattern-seeking nature—we are, after all, creatures of the savanna, programmed to uncover trends in the natural world. It is in our nature to weave a simple story from a complex set of data points. (In recent years this tendency has been amplified by news media that are very good at turning complex events into cartoon crises.) The desire to treat terrible events as the harbinger of the end of civilization itself also has roots in another human trait: vanity.
We all believe we live in an exceptional time, perhaps even a critical moment in the history of the species. Technology appears to have given us power over the atom, our genomes, the planet—with potentially dire consequences. This attitude may stem from nothing more than our desire to place ourselves at the center of the universe. “It’s part of the fundamental limited perspective of our species to believe that this moment is the critical one and critical in every way—for good, for bad, for the final end of humanity,” says Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego. Imagining the end of the world is nigh makes us feel special.

Read the whole thing.

H/t: The Daily Dish

Aug/10

22

Science in Action

Via the Daily Mail:

It’s the latest must-have accessory for the world’s biggest stars and it costs just £20. Robert De Niro, David Beckham, Gerard Butler, Demi Moore and Kate Middleton have all taken to wearing ‘mystical’ black silicone wrist bands – which they believe will boost their performance. The Power Balance bands incorporate a hologram which its manufacturer claims is ‘infused with healing and restorative powers’.

The bands are meant to enhance the body’s positive frequencies and block out negative ones from devices such as mobile telephones and radios. Sports stars including Beckham, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal and Formula 1 racer Rubens Barrichello have been wearing the bracelets at work and play. Now Hollywood stars have also adopted them despite claims they are mere lucky charms without any scientific or medical benefit.

Oh dear.

Aug/10

22

Monotheism & Religious Tolerance

In the course of Razib/Mr. Hume’s fine post on the history of the emirate of Cordoba, he had this to say:

We know as an empirical fact that the partisans of the Abrahamic faiths are not very tolerant of dissent from their religious monopolies when they are in a position of power.

Subject to the caveat (which Razib included) that such partisans took a more pragmatic approach when, although in power, they were not in a position to enforce a religious monopoly, there is certainly a lot to that, which raises the question why. If we look at the history of other empires, the Roman, say, or even (an unlikely paragon to be sure) that of Genghis Khan (Genghis was an animist), little attempt was made to enforce strict religious orthodoxy.

Does the reason for this difference of approach, I wonder, stem from the very idea of monotheism itself? While I’m certainly no fan of paganism (a lot of what is today being written about pagan societies is nonsense, motivated by ignorance, sentimentality and the childish desire to embrace a ‘non-western’ Other), could it be that the idea of all those, fractious, often competing, gods and spirits made it almost impossible to enforce a religious monopoly. If the gods could not agree, how could man? Monotheism, by contrast, must, by definition, ultimately mean that there is only one truth, and from that it is not too much of a stretch (particularly in those eras when ‘toleration’ had not become a positive ideology) to insist that all should subscribe to it.

Ovoo (animist shrine), Mongolia, May 2005

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Aug/10

22

There is no prophecy

Aug/10

21

Che!

The cult of Che Guevara (all those posters and tee-shirts, not to speak of the recent movie hagiography) is a persistent—and rather annoying—reminder of the way that the crimes of communism still rank oddly low in the popular imagination.

But if the Che cult is bad in the United States, in Argentina—the land of the murderer’s birth—it is worse. Please see below a few pictures I took recently in Buenos Aires. Some of this tat must have been aimed at the tourist peso, but I suspect that it also reflected a certain pride in a local boy made, uh, good, a pride about as perverse as, oh, I don’t know, maybe irony-free US tee-shirts commemorating “Charles Manson, American”, a design that may somewhere exist but, if it does, remains mercifully rare.

Well, you get the picture.

Then again, back in the USA there is this…..

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