Secular Right | Reality & Reason

CAT | culture

May/15

19

Weird Sounds

last trumpThe Daily Mail looks into the phenomenon of weird, unexplained sounds:

A mysterious noise from the sky is continuing to baffle people all over the world – as well as giving those who hear it sleepless nights. Sounding like a trumpet or a collective from a brass section of an orchestra, a selection of videos shot from the Canada to Ukraine, via the U.S., Germany and Belarus show strange goings on above us.And the eerie sounds have been continuously heard at all different times and locations for almost a decade.

True to form, the Daily Mail looks into what could be going on and comes up with a number of theories including tectonic plates, aliens and, of course, the apocalyspe:

Seven trumpets are sounded, one at a time, to cue apocalyptic events that were seen in the vision of the Revelation of Christ Jesus, by John of Patmos. Somewhat more worrying as it would signal the end of the world…

“Somewhat more worrying”.

English understatement is not dead.

Full story here (my ability to link seems to have disappeared):

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3084260/What-strange-sound-sky-Noise-heard-globe-nearly-DECADE-explanation.html

May/15

9

About that Encyclical

Pope against frackingPosted on the Corner last week:

The Economist clearly cannot wait to see the forthcoming encyclical on the environment:

Could Pope Francis become the world’s foremost campaigner on global warming? That is certainly the fondest hope (or in a few cases the darkest fear) of a lot of people who are closely involved in deliberations over the planet’s future. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, met the pontiff today and shared his mounting concern over the outcome of the Paris summit on climate change in December which is widely seen as the last opportunity for a global deal to manage carbon emissions and set some limit to rising temperatures.

Immediately afterwards, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an important part of the Vatican’s intellectual armoury, convened a brainstorming session with the UN secretariat and a gaggle of NGOs, including the New-York based Earth Institute, a study centre which advises the UN on sustainable development: at the Vatican’s behest, the agenda included not just climate change but forced migration and human trafficking, a scourge which has been exacerbated by desertification.

Elsewhere in the Italian capital, some strident climate-change sceptics from the Heartland Institute, a right-wing American organisation devoted to spreading climate-change scepticism, were urging the Pope not to believe in man-made global warming; the institute insists that claims of a human contribution to heating the planet are unfounded, and that proposals to mitigate climate change amount to “shutting down” the world economy.

This offers a hint of the flak that Pope Francis can expect from the religious right, including many Catholics, when he visits America later this year…

In keeping with the tone of what is a cleverly one-sided article, it is, I notice, only skeptics who earn that adjective “strident”.

Over at Breitbart, James Delingpole, who seems to have traveled to Rome in, well, “strident” company, describes a somewhat stage-managed press conference held at the Vatican with Ban-Ki Moon, but perhaps the most interesting item in his report are these comments from the UN Secretary-General:

I don’t think faith leaders should be scientists…What I want is their moral authority. Business leaders and all civil society is on board [with the mission to combat climate change]. Now we want faith leaders. Then we can make it happen.

All civil society? That may not be strident, but it’s certainly an exaggeration and, when you stop to think about it, just a little bit sinister.

Meanwhile this document has come out of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Here’s just one sentence that caught my eye:

The problem is not one of how well our children and grandchildren will fare in the world of the future, but whether civilization as we know it can be extended beyond the next 100 years.

Strident?

And the beginning of another sentence:

Our problems have been exacerbated by the current economic obsession that measures human progress solely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth…

Solely?

Strident much? But take the time to read the whole thing.

As you do so, remember that, for all the scientific discussion (which concerns not only what may or may not be going on, but what should be done about it) and the religious ‘frame’ within which the argument is set out, this is also a profoundly political document and, as such, it must, at least partly, be judged.

· ·

Apr/15

28

PEN and Sword

hebdoCross-posted on the Corner

Pen International is an association of writers intended both to promote literature and to defend it.

In May, PEN America will be holding its annual gala, an event set to include the award to Charlie Hebdo of PEN America’s annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award, citing the French magazine’s “dauntlessness in the face of one of the most noxious assaults on expression in recent memory.”

PEN America added:

The day after the attack, the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine vowed to continue publication, releasing their next edition on time with a print run expanded from 40,000 to over eight million under the mantra ‘All is Forgiven,’ donating all proceeds to the families of the victims. The Charlie Hebdo attacks dealt a blow to the bedrock principle that no act of expression, no matter how provocative or offensive, can justify violence.

Indeed it did. PEN America also made the obvious point that it was not necessarily endorsing the cartoons, merely the right to publish them (without, it had no need to add, being murdered).

But, the Guardian reports:

Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner and Taiye Selasi announced on Sunday that they had withdrawn from next month’s PEN American Center gala, citing objections to the literary and human rights organisation’s honouring of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo…. [Francine] Prose told the Associated Press that… she was in favour of “freedom of speech without limitations” and “deplored” the shootings at Charlie Hebdo

But….

…the award signified “admiration and respect” for its work and “I couldn’t imagine being in the audience when they have a standing ovation for Charlie Hebdo”.

Peter Carey (AFP reports) conceded that “A hideous crime was committed….

But

“All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

Salman Rushdie made the obvious point:

If PEN as a free-speech organisation can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name.

I’ll just take the opportunity to quote yet again from an article published in Jyllands-Posten in the aftermath of its publication of the original Mohammed cartoons, an article which included this phrase: “Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.”

The translation? “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”

Indeed there should not be.

Jyllands-Posten is singing a different tune these days, made all the bleaker by its bluntness.

As I noted in a post earlier this year, the newspaper declined to republish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons after the Paris murders, saying this:

“We have lived with the fear of a terrorist attack for nine years, and yes, that is the explanation why we do not reprint the cartoons, whether it be our own or Charlie Hebdo’s,” Jyllands-Posten said. “We are also aware that we therefore bow to violence and intimidation.”

That sad surrender makes it all the more important that PEN America took the stand that it has, and that it has stuck with it. As for authors actually attacking PEN America for standing up for the, yes, sometimes uncomfortable principle of free expression, well…

· ·

Apr/15

22

A View of the US (from the Vatican)

FrancisCrux has a piece on the planned canonization of Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish Franciscan celebrated as the founder of the Church on the West Coast of the United States.

This caught my eye:

Uruguayan layman Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America, said that as a saint, Serra will help the Latino community in the US not to feel like “barely tolerated foreigners,” but to recognize themselves in continuity with Hispanics who have lived in the country for centuries.

“Barely tolerated foreigners”?

Carriquiry was appointed to this job by Pope Francis who hails, of course, from neighboring Argentina, and wrote the preface to one of Carriquiry’s books.

· ·

Apr/15

21

Atheists: Not So Angry After All

 

atheist-dammit

You mad, bro?

According to a new study, it’s a myth that atheists are an especially angry bunch. (Grumpy? Maybe.)

Atheists are often portrayed in the media and elsewhere as angry individuals. Although atheists disagree with the pillar of many religions, namely the existence of a God, it may not necessarily be the case that they are angry individuals. The prevalence and accuracy of angry-atheist perceptions were examined in 7 studies with 1,677 participants from multiple institutions and locations in the United States. None of these studies supported the idea that atheists are particularly angry individuals. Rather, these results support the idea that people believe atheists are angry individuals, but they do not appear to be angrier than other individuals in reality.

So I guess atheists are a bit more Stephen Fry than Christopher Hitchens.

HT hbd chick.

Apr/15

5

Happy Easter!

Mar/15

14

Gray’s Anatomy (of Atheism)

Cemetery, Milan, Sept 1988 (AS)Writing in the Guardian, British philosopher John Gray (an atheist himself) takes a look at the ‘New Atheists’ and isn’t too impressed by what he sees.

His attack on the idea that leftists ‘must’ be on the left is well worth noting, and is a helpful reminder that ‘secular humanism’ is not only mush, but presumptuous mush:

[T]oday’s most influential atheists would no more endorse racist biology than they would be seen following the guidance of an astrologer. But they have not renounced the conviction that human values must be based in science; now it is liberal values which receive that accolade. There are disputes, sometimes bitter, over how to define and interpret those values, but their supremacy is hardly ever questioned. For 21st century atheist missionaries, being liberal and scientific in outlook are one and the same.

It’s a reassuringly simple equation. In fact there are no reliable connections – whether in logic or history – between atheism, science and liberal values.

Quite.

Atheism or agnosticism are simply the absence of belief in a deity. It has no automatic ‘political’ consequences. That absence can sometimes incline the unbeliever to support profound illiberal ideologies (as Gray points out), but it can also lead him or her to do the opposite. A lack of belief will, by definition, mean that unbelievers reject the purported rationale of policies rooted in religious faith, but not always their utility.

Gray:

There have been many modern atheisms, some of them more cogent and more intellectually liberating than the type that makes so much noise today. Campaigning atheism is a missionary enterprise, aiming to convert humankind to a particular version of unbelief; but not all atheists have been interested in propagating a new gospel, and some have been friendly to traditional faiths.

… Roughly speaking, an atheist is anyone who has no use for the concept of God – the idea of a divine mind, which has created humankind and embodies in a perfect form the values that human beings cherish and strive to realise. Many who are atheists in this sense (including myself) regard the evangelical atheism that has emerged over the past few decades with bemusement. Why make a fuss over an idea that has no sense for you? There are untold multitudes who have no interest in waging war on beliefs that mean nothing to them. Throughout history, many have been happy to live their lives without bothering about ultimate questions. This sort of atheism is one of the perennial responses to the experience of being human.

And one that I share: “Ultimate questions”? There are better things to think about.

On the other hand, it’s important to remember that, to borrow from that old Trotsky line, you may not have much interest in the beliefs of others, but those who follow those beliefs may have an interest in you. To that extent, arguing back against the very root of those beliefs can make a great deal of sense. Critical biblical scholarship served a very useful purpose in the 19th century, so would subjecting the Koran to the same treatment in the 21st.

Gray attributes much of the rise of the New Atheists to 9/11, or rather its implications:

For secular liberals of [Sam Harris’s] generation, the shock of the 11 September attacks went beyond the atrocious loss of life they entailed. The effect of the attacks was to place a question mark over the belief that their values were spreading – slowly, and at times fitfully, but in the long run irresistibly – throughout the world. As society became ever more reliant on science, they had assumed, religion would inexorably decline. No doubt the process would be bumpy, and pockets of irrationality would linger on the margins of modern life; but religion would dwindle away as a factor in human conflict. The road would be long and winding. But the grand march of secular reason would continue, with more and more societies joining the modern west in marginalising religion. Someday, religious belief would be no more important than personal hobbies or ethnic cuisines.

Today, it’s clear that no grand march is under way.

Indeed.

Gray:

Though not all human beings may attach great importance to them, every society contains practices that are recognisably religious. Why should religion be universal in this way? For atheist missionaries this is a decidedly awkward question. Invariably they claim to be followers of Darwin. Yet they never ask what evolutionary function this species-wide phenomenon serves. There is an irresolvable contradiction between viewing religion naturalistically – as a human adaptation to living in the world – and condemning it as a tissue of error and illusion. What if the upshot of scientific inquiry is that a need for illusion is built into in the human mind? If religions are natural for humans and give value to their lives, why spend your life trying to persuade others to give them up?

Again, indeed.

As a species, we appear to have a strong tendency towards religious belief for, doubtless, excellent reasons. When conventional religious belief fades, it is simply replaced by something else (there’s no better example of that than communism, essentially little more than a milleniallist cult, with a supernatural idea of history stepping in for more traditional gods). Raging against religious belief is as foolish (as I am not the first to observe) as raging against bipedalism. Secular sorts would do far better to focus their wrath on the more malign expressions of religious belief. All religions are not equal. An Anglican is not a Salafist.

As you’d expect, Gray also turns his question to the notion of morality without God:

The belief that the human species is a moral agent struggling to realise its inherent possibilities – the narrative of redemption that sustains secular humanists everywhere – is a hollowed-out version of a theistic myth. The idea that the human species is striving to achieve any purpose or goal – a universal state of freedom or justice, say – presupposes a pre-Darwinian, teleological way of thinking that has no place in science. Empirically speaking, there is no such collective human agent, only different human beings with conflicting goals and values. If you think of morality in scientific terms, as part of the behaviour of the human animal, you find that humans don’t live according to iterations of a single universal code. Instead, they have fashioned many ways of life. A plurality of moralities is as natural for the human animal as the variety of languages.

At this point, the dread spectre of relativism tends to be raised. Doesn’t talk of plural moralities mean there can be no truth in ethics? Well, anyone who wants their values secured by something beyond the capricious human world had better join an old-fashioned religion. If you set aside any view of humankind that is borrowed from monotheism, you have to deal with human beings as you find them, with their perpetually warring values.

This isn’t the relativism celebrated by postmodernists, which holds that human values are merely cultural constructions. Humans are like other animals in having a definite nature, which shapes their experiences whether they like it or not. No one benefits from being tortured or persecuted on account of their religion or sexuality. Being chronically poor is rarely, if ever, a positive experience. Being at risk of violent death is bad for human beings whatever their culture. Such truisms could be multiplied. Universal human values can be understood as something like moral facts, marking out goods and evils that are generically human. Using these universal values, it may be possible to define a minimum standard of civilised life that every society should meet; but this minimum won’t be the liberal values of the present time turned into universal principles.

Universal values don’t add up to a universal morality. Such values are very often conflicting, and different societies resolve these conflicts in divergent ways….

The conviction that tyranny and persecution are aberrations in human affairs is at the heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today. But this conviction is supported by faith more than evidence. Throughout history there have been large numbers who have been happy to relinquish their freedom as long as those they hate – gay people, Jews, immigrants and other minorities, for example – are deprived of freedom as well. Many have been ready to support tyranny and oppression. Billions of human beings have been hostile to liberal values, and there is no reason for thinking matters will be any different in future.

No there is not.

Food for thought. Read the whole thing.

·

Mar/15

2

ISIS vs. Silicon Valley

 

isis-twitter-photo

The Islamic State is now directing its wrath at Twitter. Namely its co-founder, Jack Dorsey, but also his underlings. And if you thought the Twitter Mob was bad, check out what happens when Twitter itself is in the crosshairs for wrangling with the ultra-reactionary:

ISIS posted an online threat Sunday warning Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey that “your virtual war on the Internet will cause a real war on you.”

The threat was posted in Arabic under a headline, “Foundation for the conquest of Jerusalem for the Islamic State,” and “Twitter a target for the caliphate.”

“Jack, how will you protect your helpless employees when their necks are on the line and they become an official target for soldiers of the succession and their supporters among you?” the online post states. “What will be your response to their families and sons, and their plight in this failed war?”

Oddly, ISIS has nothing to say about the awful, terrible and no-good lack of diversity at Twitter. It’s merely upset that the company is constantly taking down its videos. How selfish! Clearly the fledgeling Islamic State is not in tune with 21st century moral posturing. (Only 8th century beheadings.)

Luckily for the civilized world, the hacktivist spirit that dwells within ISIS is also at work among its opponents. As CNN reports, someone going by the name of “The Jester” has been undermining online jihadis for nearly half a decade:

“I realized something needed to be done about online radicalization and ‘grooming’ of wannabe jihadis, and we didn’t have mechanisms to deal with it,” Jester said in an interview with CNNMoney. “I decided to start disrupting them.”

My black hat’s off to you, sir.

 

Nov/14

3

Halloweaster

Halloween Peeps, Nov 14 (AS)Halloween is even more splendidly syncretic than I thought: Yes, Halloween Peeps made an appearance at a supermarket near me.

Adweek explains:

More sweet. Less scary. That’s the promotional campaign, not the ingredient list.

The perennial Easter favorite Peeps continue to try to become a year-round candy with these “peepified” illustrations for Halloween. The simple, colorful drawings are part of an ongoing campaign dubbed “Every Day Is a Holiday,” launched earlier this year to introduce Peeps Minis, diminutive flavored versions of the original chicks. (They’re less than half the size of the flagship product, and come in bags, not the traditional cellophane-front flat boxes).

The airy sugar dumplings, made by confectioner Just Born, haul in an estimated 70 percent of their business at Easter and only a fraction on other holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. There are ghost and pumpkin Peeps on shelves now, but they’ve never moved as briskly as springtime’s puffy chicks and bunnies.

·

Nov/14

1

“Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

Socorro, NM, May 95 (photo AS)Cross-posted on the Corner

Just when you think that the misery that climate change is bringing in its wake can get no worse, there is this.

Grist reports:

…From depression to substance abuse to suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, growing bodies of research in the relatively new field of psychology of global warming suggest that climate change will take a pretty heavy toll on the human psyche as storms become more destructive and droughts more prolonged. For your everyday environmentalist, the emotional stress suffered by a rapidly changing Earth can result in some pretty substantial anxieties….

Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist based in Washington, D.C. — and co-author of the National Wildlife Federation’s report — calls this emotional reaction “pre-traumatic stress disorder,” a term she coined to describe the mental anguish that results from preparing for the worst, before it actually happens.

There is, in my view, a perfectly reasonable case to be made that man may be contributing to the way that our ever-changing climate changes. That’s one thing, but how some choose to express their belief in that proposition can be something altogether, well let’s just say, less reasonable.

Millennialist hysteria is not, of course, a new phenomenon. But, to be fair, it’s not all that hellish for those that embrace it. I suspect that with that, um, “pre-traumatic stress disorder” comes a certain excitement too, of a girding up for the End Times, of a preparation for that definitive battle to save the planet, stave off Satan or whatever the particular apocalypse may be.

And the unbelievers just will not listen:

Grist:

What’s even more deflating for a climate scientist is when sounding the alarm on climatic catastrophes seems to fall on deaf ears.

But that too all is not all bad. The willful ignorance of those who will not pay attention to that alarm reinforces the sense of moral superiority felt by those who do. Sinners make it so much easier to be a saint.

And that sense of mission, how it burns.

Grist:

For activists like Mike Tidwell — founder of the nonprofit Chesapeake Climate Action Network and author of The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Race to Save America’s Coastal Cities — part of being on the front lines means being outspoken and passionate about the cause. But while activism may be a more forgiving platform to express emotional stresses than within the scientific community, the personal toll of the work goes largely undiscussed.

“You don’t just start talking about unbelievably fast sea-level rise at a cocktail party at a friend’s house,” Tidwell says. “So having to deny the emotional need to talk about what’s on your mind all the time … those are some of the burdens that climate aware scientists and activists have to endure….”

….Perhaps it’s time for those deeply involved in climate science to come forward about the emotional struggle, or at the very least, for those in mental health research and support to start exploring climate change psychology with more fervor. And reaching out to scientists in particular could be a huge opportunity to better explore the world of climate psych, says psychosocial researcher and consultant Renee Lertzman.

“There’s a taboo talking about it,” Lertzman says, adding that the tight-lipped culture of the scientific community can be difficult to bridge. “We’re just starting to piece that together. The field of the psychology of climate change is still very, very young … I believe there are profound and not well-recognized or understood psychological implications of what I would call being a frontliner. There needs to be a lot more attention given to frontliners and where they’re given support.”

“The field of the psychology of climate change” is “very, very young”? I don’t think so.

The chosen, the elect, the saved, the righteous, the “frontliners”.

It’s a very, very old story, but with a new script.

·

Older posts >>

Theme Design by devolux.nh2.me