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10 January 2015 @ 08:05 am
Ideas one at a time  
I don't completely agree with anybody. I have been greatly influenced by people like Robert A. Heinlein and Kurt Vonnegut who are RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT except when they are WRONG WRONG WRONG. Amanda Marcotte is one of those. I enjoy her blog (and frequently link to it) when she is savaging worthy targets such as Fox News and GamerGate. But sometimes not so much.

Scott Aaronson opened a can of worms by saying that, as a nerd, he feels more picked on than the supposedly oppressed groups. Laurie Penny wrote an excellent answer to that. Arthur Chu has just done an even better one. Amanda Marcotte finds that sort of thing much too merciful and did a fisking mainly demonstrating that if you find a weak, miserable member of a privileged group and hit him repeatedly in the goolies, you can think of yourself as "punching up."

Her latest post says that the atheists are being too nice. She's been acting all along as if atheism is proven scientific fact, so theists should be mocked as mercilessly as those who deny evolution or global warming.

I caught myself thinking like that, on another issue. It seems obvious to me that any reasoned denial of human exceptionalism refutes itself. We humans can do logical arguments, write poems, solve equations, control our own fertility, and do all sorts of other things the other animals can't, and if that isn't exceptional, what is? I have yielded to the temptation to take those who claim to be no smarter than the animals at their word.

I try to practice Miller's Rule: In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to figure out what it could be true of. I recommend it to one and all. Amanda Marcotte might consider that intelligent people might accept areas in which the materialistic methods of science do not provide the answers, such as God and the soul. (I myself find it impossible to believe that the Universe is run by anything that meaningfully resembles a person, but I don't find such a belief nonsensical.) And I should remind myself that the distinction between entities with and without language, literature, and science is not as important to everyone as it is to me.
Sarcasticia Nitpickersontisiphone on January 10th, 2015 01:11 pm (UTC)
That article bothered me too, for reasons that I couldn't entirely put my finger on. Your post has clarified the issue somewhat. Part of my objection stems from the fact that religion is a separate sphere of ontological and epistemological inquiry than science, which is something both non-religious and religious people tend to elide or ignore. Religion will never be proven in the same way that climate change is proven, because it's not an observable physical process. Instead, it's a social, meta-cognitive process that plays multiple roles. Whether or not one or more gods can be proved to exist or not is beside the point of whether religion is a real force in the world. As with race, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that "socially constructed" means "not real". Social constructions are the realest things in the world to social animals.

(Mind you, I don't think that places religion beyond criticism. No social constructions are beyond criticism - that's the only way we evolve.)
browngirl on January 11th, 2015 11:35 pm (UTC)
As with race, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that "socially constructed" means "not real". Social constructions are the realest things in the world to social animals.

So very true, and well said.
Johnjohnpalmer on January 12th, 2015 05:33 pm (UTC)
That's kind of how I feel about religion. It's got a different purpose. And it can be a purpose that's hard to express.

And if someone point to warfare and strife caused by claimed religious differences, it can be very hard to express "but those probably would have happened anyway - religion was just the gold paint they put on the turd." But I feel very strongly that it's not religion that makes people self-righteous asses - I think it's being self-righteous asses that makes them that way.

But I do feel forced to grant that religion can be an awfully good paint sometimes.
Sarcasticia Nitpickersontisiphone on January 12th, 2015 06:22 pm (UTC)
But I feel very strongly that it's not religion that makes people self-righteous asses - I think it's being self-righteous asses that makes them that way.

Quite so. Religious people and self-righteous asses are clearly intersecting sets, not a union.
Carol Kennedycakmpls on January 10th, 2015 01:32 pm (UTC)
I do find it nonsensical that "the Universe is run by anything that meaningfully resembles a person," which is why I think the question of whether God* exists is pointless. Should there be such a being, it would be beyond human understanding, and certainly unconcerned with whether we believe in it. IMHO.

*That is, a being that is capable of creating the universe.
Johnjohnpalmer on January 12th, 2015 05:39 pm (UTC)
I was once pondering this as pure mental masturbation (read as: philosophy), and I do think that if there's something worth being called "goodness", an ultimately good being would want others to be "good". But I do grant that the notion that this being would want belief in *itself* to be nonsensical. A believe in "goodness", i.e., a belief that there are better and worse ways to act? Sure... but not in *itself*.
Sarah Ovenallsarah_ovenall on January 10th, 2015 01:36 pm (UTC)
I had to stop reading Marcotte a while ago. For me her RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT to WRONG WRONG WRONG ratio swung towards WRONG too often.
nancylebov: green leavesnancylebov on January 10th, 2015 03:38 pm (UTC)
I think it's very unfortunate that Aaronson claimed that he was extraordinarily oppressed rather than that he'd been badly hurt by people who claim they're trying to make the world better.

However, in an environment where it's clear that one of the ways of getting attention is to claim to be extraordinarily oppressed, it's easy to make that mistake.
et in Arcadia egoboo: Sacred Chaoapostle_of_eris on January 10th, 2015 05:55 pm (UTC)
I don't get the deal with Belligerent Atheism to begin with. It's been a fashion for a couple of years now, but what's the point? Especially since Belligerent Atheists tend to adhere to the same sophomoric mistakes as Belligerent God-Botherers. (#1: Religion "is" exactly one thing which I am about to beat you over the head with.)

Personally, I really like Militant Agnostic: I don't know and neither do you.
Johnjohnpalmer on January 11th, 2015 02:49 am (UTC)
That actually *is* a thing, in point of fact. The "Strong" form of agnosticism is "the question is important and unanswerable".

El Coyote Gordo: pastafariansupergee on January 11th, 2015 10:03 am (UTC)
That's close to my approach.
Johnjohnpalmer on January 12th, 2015 05:43 pm (UTC)
And I think it's reasonable :-).

I always include the bit about "the question is important" because I feel a bit mean-spirited when I see people saying "Oh, you don't *believe* in God, but you grant that if evidence came your way, you might change your mind? Well, then, you don't get to say you're an *atheist* for not believing and not giving a damn; you have to be an *agnostic*."

But "gnosis" derives from a sense of spiritual knowledge, and one isn't "without" (a-) that, unless one cares. "I don't see any reason to believe in a god or gods, or to seek them out" is being "without theism". Unless a person prefers the title agnostic, of course.

(Okay, oddity of living in western Washington. I read "a-" not as a prefix, but as the beginning of a Microsoft alias for a)djunct employees.)
don_fitch on January 10th, 2015 07:19 pm (UTC)
I enormously like "I don't completely agree with anybody" -- or at least with the modification " I seem not to agree completely with anybody", because I like to be kinda vague about stuff like this. But yes. Marcotte sometimes seems to me to go a bit off the board. *shrug* At least she's almost always interesting and thought-provoking, and I think the world needs many more people like that.

A Wandering Hobbit: cognitive hazardredbird on January 10th, 2015 08:06 pm (UTC)
human exceptionalism
The thing about human exceptionalism is that it seems to be an ever-moving target or definition. Not too long ago, a list of things that only humans would probably have included toolmaking and symbolic communication; now it's accepted that other animals can use symbols, and the line is drawn at grammar. I find it more useful to say that there are a set of things that, as far as we know, humans are better at any other species on this planet, but also to think about the similarities, because comparing human learning with that of other apes, or tool-making with that of crows, might give us insight into what's going on in the brain, and whether we're using the same brain areas for learning, tool-making, or communication. Just saying "we can write poetry and they can't" seems less likely to go somewhere useful.
El Coyote Gordo: coy1supergee on January 11th, 2015 10:05 am (UTC)
Re: human exceptionalism
The similarities are useful, but what is important to me is that each human being is exceptionally valuable.
Johnjohnpalmer on January 12th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
Re: human exceptionalism
Heh. Then, I flash on the famous Douglas Adams bit where humans thought they were so much smarter than dolphins because they'd invented the wheel, wars, and New York, while all dolphins had done was muck about in the water and have a good time - whereas dolphins thought they were smarter than humans for the exact same reasons.
amaebi: Black foxamaebi on January 11th, 2015 02:17 am (UTC)
So I take it that you're a reader if not a fancier of Suzette Haden Elgin? Nice!
El Coyote Gordo: actualsupergee on January 11th, 2015 10:07 am (UTC)
I may have first encountered Miller's Rule in his own book, but I definitely like Suzette Haden Elgin's writing. We were friends here before the dementia got her.

Edited at 2015-01-11 10:07 am (UTC)
browngirl on January 11th, 2015 11:37 pm (UTC)
Miller's Rule
I try to practice Miller's Rule: In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to figure out what it could be true of.

I don't know how I got thus far in my education without coming across this useful concept. *makes a note*
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on January 12th, 2015 03:38 pm (UTC)
So many people practice the opposite of Miller's Rule. That is, they castigate something for being wrong without even considering that there might be another sense in which it is true. My favorite example is the people who say that the Declaration of Independence's "all men are created equal" is obviously false because of differences in human talents and abilities. Kurt Vonnegut is one of the people who were wrong wrong wrong about that one.

I like the Arthur Chu article because it points out that Aaronson's problems were in his head, not in external reality. That would explain why, though I observed the same facts about the world that Aaronson did, it never bothered me. The inside of my head is a different place than the inside of his head.
Avram Grumer: Post-It Portraitagrumer on January 13th, 2015 03:03 am (UTC)
Marcotte seems to be committed to the rage-aholic click-bait business model.