The internet is a click-bait whore. After more than two decades of living in this digital realm, I can say that with confidence. Everything on the internet is composed to get you to follow the link and find out what AMAZING, STUPENDOUS, GLORIOUS things are waiting for you on the other side of that provocative come hither looking text. Unfortunately, the reality that awaits on the other side of that click is rarely worth the energy it takes to click the link.
Take this promotion for Unexplained on Gaia for example. It popped up on Facebook for me a few months ago. Dramatic music. Good-looking talking heads tell you things you want to believe. What isn’t to love about that trailer?
You know what I can’t find in a shareable form? The trailer thrown in my face on Facebook, promoted by the Gaia streaming service. I can’t find it anywhere to post to the blog so that I and my readers may laugh at it. The curious will have to go to Facebook and see it there (click the clickbait. You know you want to) because no keyword search that I’ve come up with so far can produce the actual trailer promoting this episode of Ancient Civilizations produced two years ago. If you want to see it, you have to pay for it. I guess the charlatans are getting smarter. You can’t get the rubes to give you the money if you blow your load in the first teaser trailer.
…and that link to Facebook. Just watch the repeating video at the top. That looping video is really all you need to understand the confidence game that is being played on the believers who pony up to pay for this streaming service. Ancient aliens are among us? Please.
There was no Tower of Babel, just as there was no real Atlantis. Just as there was no Ark built by Noah. I shouldn’t have to explain the difference between religion and history to people smart enough to know how to work a camera and create a documentary. There was no Tower of Babel where god looked down and cursed man with many languages for its construction. That Tower of Babel is myth. If you believe otherwise, you are a fool.
Like Atlantis, the Tower of Babel is a storytelling device. Atlantis was embroidered in the imagination of Plato, a mythical place created to hearken back to earlier, more prosperous times. This storyline should sound familiar to anyone currently immersed in US politics. But like the lies of the Orange Hate-Monkey, Plato created the illusion of Atlantis to paint a picture that his students would want to strive for, and still people think they can find it. Noah’s Ark is similar.
The Ark of Noah is encased in ice on Mt Ararat
Prove it. Go to Ararat yourself and take pictures of it, yourself. I’ve taken the same trek that you’ve taken so far; which is to say, a vicarious trek. I listened to the stories told to me by elders and I believed. I read In Search of Noah’s Ark in the seventies. That book had me convinced. I just knew there was an Ark somewhere under all that ice. Just like the child shoveling out the stables. Then I started reading the works of other religions and other believers, and that’s when I discovered that it’s a common prehistoric myth.
The myth is so common as to be pointless to attempt to verify any one claim. Like the virgin birth of Jesus reflects the virgin birth of other godlike creations, flood myths pervade early religions everywhere. All of these myths may be based on some historic flood that the local population remembers, none of them spanned the globe and destroyed all human civilization. What I’ve seen in several decades of curiosity about this subject is that there is no proof, none whatsoever, for Noah’s Ark. The story was someone else’s before it was Noah’s, and Ararat is just the nearest peak to where the myth of the Ark was located.
Also, Mary was probably having it off with someone about nine months earlier and didn’t want to die at her father’s hands. This is a practice still pathetically commonplace in many regions of the world. She got caught by being the sex that carries the young of the species (humans, in case you are wondering) a problem that the fertilizing sex doesn’t have. She couldn’t hide the belly anymore, so she claimed that god visited her in the night and that’s how the baby got in there. This is another common occurrence, lying to save your own life. It goes hand in hand with death penalties wherever you find them. You’d think parents would be happy to have grandchildren to raise, rather than worrying about selling off a virgin daughter to the highest bidder. She ended up being fobbed off on the carpenter, someone who was happy to have a few extra hands around the jobsite with all the work he had to do.
There are probably evangelicals reading this right now, or they were reading it until they got to that last paragraph. They probably aren’t reading it anymore. But if they were they would insist that we can’t find the ark on Ararat because if there was a wooden boat under the ice on Ararat for all those millennia it would of been ground to a pulp centuries ago and pushed down the mountain as debris. Myths are not realities. There was no boat, because flood waters cannot rise that high even if all the ice in the world melted. How high would it rise? 70ish meters. Numbers vary. We should see 9 feet of rise in the sea levels over the next couple of decades based on current CO2 levels. More if we don’t moderate emissions that produce warmer temperatures.
But all of that is beside the point that the Tower of Babel is a myth.
But there wasn’t a tower where god sundered the languages and caused strife across the world. That would be kind of pointless since he had drowned the world just a few years earlier because of all the strife in the world. Or are you suggesting that god condemns his people for things that he created them to do? That he holds us all accountable for the things that he makes us do? Well that figures.
Cara deciding to trash all things Hippy isn’t surprising. There is little at the typical health food store that warrants a special trip there. Little, unless you happen to have special dietary needs. If you have food allergies. If you are lactose intolerant. If any number of food-related issues bother you, the health food store used to be the only place you could go to find relief. Considering that skeptics would claim you couldn’t be allergic to foods, until those allergies could be demonstrated, and still flame-on when anyone mentions the word gluten, panning all things health food related is completely understandable.
I just happen to not react to goat’s milk like I do cow’s milk. So I can drink goat’s milk and suffer little or no ill effects. I still can’t eat pizza, that is too much cheese of any kind, but at least I can put a slice of goat cheese on my hamburger and not have to worry about reacting to the lactose in the cheese. And the best place to get that kind of food is still at a health food store. I buy my oat milk, my Nada Moo, goat cheese and goat milk, and try to restrain myself as I walk past the chocolate and liquorice on the way to the register.
The Wife, who can consume all the cheese she wants because she was descended from Mongols who were raised on yak’s milk, has some very unflattering things to say about us Mediterranean types whose ancestors tended goats and sheep, but I also have some insults I could hurl in return considering she’s pretty much 100% Irish. I won’t utter them because I don’t feel like being beaten up by any Irish who might read this and take offense. I have to be able to sleep sometime. It all comes down to genetics and how your particular gut came to be in the here and now.
Which brings me to the idea of drinking raw milk. If you are drinking raw milk and you don’t milk the cows (or goats. Or sheep) yourself, you are just asking to get sick and possibly be killed by the naturally occuring bacteria found on the udders and in the milk of any animal. And I laugh every time I read the label on cheese and it trumpets made from raw milk. This is just another marketing ploy like organic or natural, since the process of making cheese kills most of the bacteria that lives in the milk. That is why we started making cheese from milk in the first place. If you are still concerned about the possibility of food poisoning, don’t get the cheese made from raw milk. Pasteurization is a good thing. It’s why we have milk on supermarket shelves today.
I mean, we could irradiate the milk and skip the pasteurization flavor change problem, but the fantasists who think that pasteurization is bad also think that irradiation of food is bad. There really is no way to win over everyone. There’s always going to be one or two of them that have to stick their fingers in the electrical outlet before they’ll believe that electric shocks are painful, and there will be at least one guy that swears electrical shocks make him feel better and so recommends you shock yourself two or three times a day.
Steve’s suggestion that bulk foods were useful, while the other offerings at the health food stores were not, is also slightly off-cue. The reason that goods are offered in their own sealed containers should be readily apparent to anyone who gives this much thought. But for those who don’t think a lot, I’ll spell it out. Adulteration or contamination of the product, which was a problem back in the days when everything was offered in bulk quantities. Some nefarious grocers would dilute the products offered and charge the same rate. This is essentially how all vodka is made, but very few people know that their vodka was distilled to 190 proof at the distillery and then cut in half with water at the bottler. There is also the problem of some anonymous others tampering with the bulk products and no one noticing (think Tylenol) as an Austinite, and someone who frequents health food stores for his oat milk and goat’s milk products, I could buy a lot of products in bulk. I just don’t.
Austin is the birthplace of Whole Foods and a few other now-defunct health food chains. I’m an owner at Wheatsville Food Co-op. I could shop in bulk products if I wanted to. I don’t shop in bulk products because I don’t want to have to trust every person who passes by the bulk products bins not to drop their chewing gum in there with my morning steel cut oats. I’ll take the time to recycle the packaging, that is fine by me. I like branded, labeled products in sealed packages. It’s probably the most American thing about me.
I would rather the packaging not be plastic packaging, plastic packaging being the reason that health food stores came up at all in that Skeptic’s Guide episode. I try to avoid plastic packaging when I can, but it is nearly impossible to avoid plastic when it comes to food packaging. You can count me in for testing new packaging that isn’t plastic. Oh, and Jay? You want plastic that breaks down on its own? That also existed once upon a time. They tested plastic bags that degraded in the sun faster when they first rolled out plastic bags, back when everyone was worried about paper demand destroying all the forests. That plastic turned into micro plastics too, just like regular plastic. The only way to avoid this is to create disposable items from something other than plastic. Say, compressed corn starch.
The image at right was culled from a friend’s Facebook wall a few years back. The image serves as an introduction, the proverbial rabbit-hole, a building 7 to 9/11 truthers, a lead-in to draw you deeper into this post dedicated to critical thinking. Humor me, dear reader. I’m going somewhere with this.
You might well ask, what does the image mean? Anyone who doesn’t recognize Morpheus from The Matrix movies really needs to go back and do some homework before reading this. The Matrix is its own introduction to conspiratorial thinking, a rabbit hole of its own metaphorical making. However, the text on the image is misleading. Anyone running for public office, from any party, is subject to the will of the people who fund their campaigns. If the candidates from the party do not pander to the big spenders (i.e. the corporations) then the party will not get the funds they need to win, meaning their ideology will never take root directly in the politics of the nation. All parties work for corporations, even the third parties. The Kochs owned the LP for a long time before they shifted to the Republicans. The Kochs represent some of the worst of the worst of corporate behavior, strong-arming groups that they fund trying to force them to echo the policies that the Kochs find favorable. This will continue to be true until we get money out of politics, plain and simple. There is no other way to fix the problem of corporations buying the parties and the candidates for office.
I have no problem with the image. I probably don’t have a problem with the website the image came from, although I haven’t spent any real time on it. What I had a problem with was where the conspiratorially motivated fantasists took the image in the wild after it was released. I have culled most of the incorrigible conspiracists from my Facebook wall. Every now and then a new one pops up and I subject them to the ban hammer; but generally my wall is free of their posts. Some of my oldest friends do indulge in conspiracy fantasies though, and as a consequence of this I still have to deal with the odd reference to a conspiracy theory even though I find the entire subject of grand conspiracies completely ludicrous.
Grand conspiracies are ludicrous, starting with the phrase conspiracy theory. Grand conspiracies aren’t theories. A theory not only explains the facts in evidence, it survives rigorous testing through trial and error. The theory of evolution is an excellent example of this. It has survived test after test, and has made predictions about evolutionary history which have been proven to be true. It is a robust theory, accepted by nearly all of the scientific community. The fact that nearly half of Americans reject the theory of evolution merely serves as a painful reminder of just how misinformed most of us are.
Grand conspiracies aren’t conspiracy hypothesis either, which is the step in evidence below theory. A hypothesis of necessity must explain all the predominant facts it is attempting to address. A hypothesis has to be testable to be acceptable as a scientific explanation. Grand conspiracies tend to ignore all evidence and instead look for anomalies that can be held up as examples of failure for explanations the grand conspiracy believer doesn’t like. Phrases like magic bullet get thrown around, as if the unexplained will remain inexplicable forever.
Grand conspiracies are conspiratorial conjecture, nothing more. They are stories that are told to entertain. They are, as the title of this piece states, conspiracy fantasies. When you start allowing your fantasies to replace the reality around you, a whole host of bad is waiting in the wings to descend upon you. When the Facebook friend (mentioned previously) made a tangential reference to the Rothschild family in his post, I recognized the reference immediately (Rothschild Skeptoid episode) It is an old anti-Semitic/white supremacist fabrication. Like the whole sovereign thing. There is no sound basis for asserting that the fantasy has any reality to it, unless you have a problem with Jews, which says more about you than it does about anyone else.
I’ve argued with this guy and his friends over beers before. I know there is no convincing him that his pet fantasies were meaningless. Rather than hopelessly resign myself to having to ignore him once again, I tried to tangent into a discussion of the gullibility of conspiracy fantasists. I linked this video of Rebecca Watson discussing a recent study to see if I could head off the impending disaster,
Unfortunately for all concerned, the only fact that penetrated their heads was that “the Pink Haired Lady says chemtrails aren’t real” which lead him and his friends to try to convince me they were real. Well, they aren’t real. Of course chemicals are detectable in airline contrails. The planes that create them are shedding molecules into the atmosphere everywhere they fly. The combustion engines they are powered by emit exhaust chemicals, which are also detectable. This really isn’t that hard to figure out.
…Unless there is a ready-made market of science denial set up specifically to use the tools of science against it. An entire method of approaching the world around us that paints the activities of others as nefarious and unscrupulous. This says more about the conspiracy fans than it does about the rest of us, but there is a large group of people out there ready to confirm your suspicions about any activity that concerns you. All that is required is to entertain your curiosity without engaging your critical thinking skills. If you ever learned to think critically in the first place. Without critical thinking we are all babes in the wilderness.
If you, dear reader, think the pink haired lady only dismisses chemtrails, then you are probably also a conspiracy fan, lack critical thinking skills, and are as gullible as the study she talks about shows. If I felt like messing with conspiracy fans I could feed them all kinds of crazy stuff which they would buy right into, just like Alex Jones does. So if that kind of trolling is something you enjoy, have at it. They’ll never know you’re pulling their legs.
After I rebutted the chemtrails argument the conversation with that Facebook friend I mentioned proceeded to spiral down the proverbial rabbit hole, morphing into a discussion of various other conspiracy tales. Haarp was mentioned. Like Agenda 21, it isn’t anything close to what conspiracy fans think it is. Monsanto was raised, Godwin style. It was at that point that I knew I was quite literally wasting my time, and I really didn’t want to have to hear about Building 7 one more time. I didn’t want to have yet another conversation where the fans throw each conspiracy they believe at me one at a time, each time certain that it can’t be explained. All of them can be explained, and not with grand conspiracies. Good luck getting one of the fans to notice this fact.
So why are grand conspiracies fantasies? Scale. That’s really all there is to it. Fantasists who support whatever conspiracy I sent you here to inoculate yourself against (if you got here without my linking this article in a discussion, well done!) will likely talk about the Gulf of Tonkin incident or Watergate or more recently, Edward Snowden. Well, Watergate wasn’t a grand conspiracy. It relied on about ten people keeping their mouths shut, and that conspiracy not only failed because ten people couldn’t keep quiet, it failed because Nixon was taping everything said in his office. He was that paranoid.
The Gulf of Tonkin incident, like the revelations of NSA spying, are the very stories that illustrate the problem with massive conspiracies and the theories spun about them. The NSA spying was anything but secret. Oh, it was officially denied like Tonkin was denied, and the US government would love to punish Snowden for his revelations. But the spying was itself an open secret. Anyone interested in the subject knew that the NSA was involved in a dragnet of information across the internet.
It is a lot like the people who point to the denials of Groom Lake (area 51) being a location for testing new Air Force technologies, and then conclude that the stories of alien visitations are true. The locals knew it was testing facility for decades. The official denials proved nothing aside from the fact that they were conducting secret tests there. They certainly don’t point to any factual truth concerning extraterrestrial contact. The NSA’s spying program, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the Tuskegee experiment, Project MKUltra, etcetera, are all hallmarks of the inability for large conspiracies to remain secret. It is only a matter of time before the secret becomes common knowledge.
After once again being forced to ignore an old friend, I’m left wondering why is the US such a misanthropic nation? Why do we obsess over these silly fantasies that cannot possibly be true? Perhaps the reason why so many Americans believe conspiracy fantasies is because they understand their culpability in allowing their government to go so far astray. Like all the guilty parties of the world, they are quick to point to those shadowy others out there “Them! They did it! It wasn’t me!” rather than take the blame for their own inaction, their unwillingness to sully themselves with real politics. I mean, if lizard people are running the world, why bother with democratic participation?
However this willful blindness to the state of US politics on the part of the people whom the government supposedly represents does have a cost. It is not all fun and games as we pretend that lizards run our country or that we narrowly missed being governed by a pedophile in the last election. Conspiracies do exist, yes. And when they are represented in plots hatched by a foreign government, especially on that speaks a different language and is on shaky ties with the US to start with, they can be quite large and even link to the leadership of that government, and still take years for us to catch wind of it.
It turns out that the Jade Helm 15 fantasy that took the nation by storm during the Obama administration came from somewhere, and that somewhere wasn’t inside the United States. It was created by Russian operatives as a testbed to see if they could alter US politics by sowing discord.
If you think the president can just wave his big Magic Negro Ray of Chocolate Mojo and declare martial law, you really don’t understand how your government works – but then again that’s not even a little bit surprising given a sitting US senator such as Ted Cruz apparently doesn’t understand how the very government he is part of works either.
So the answer was yes. Yes Russia could and did interfere with our politics; and they continued to do it from that point straight on through the 2016 presidential elections that gave us the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) as president.
A former director of the CIA and NSA said Wednesday that hysteria in Texas over a 2015 U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm was fueled by Russians wanting to dominate “the information space,” and that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to send the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation gave them proof of the power of such misinformation campaigns.
Michael Hayden, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe podcast, chalked up peoples’ fear over Jade Helm 15 to “Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”
Abbott ordered the State Guard to monitor the federal exercise soon after news broke of the operation. Hayden said that move gave Russians the go-ahead to continue — and possibly expand — their efforts to spread fear.
“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’” Hayden said of Abbott’s response. “At that point, I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.’”
Does this mean that the OHM is a Russian stooge? No. No it doesn’t. Why? Because those links are tenuous and unproven. Likely unprovable. He is a money launderer and a client for Russian oligarchs, but he isn’t an invisible bomb-throwing ninja of the scale necessary to pull off that kind of spy intrigue. He’s just another conman who was used in a con that targeted the American people. The sooner we figure that out and get him out of office, the better everything will be.
However, he is one of the people who believed the Jade Helm story at the time. Just like Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Just like Ted Cruz. This is the cost of believing these conspiratorial fairytales. The cost being that these people have been shown to be unfit for office. They are far too gullible to be trusted with handling the daily business of our government. Unfortunately for the average American, they’re still caught up in so many other conspiratorial fantasies that they probably haven’t noticed that their leaders have been shown to be just as clueless as they are.
It’s probably pretty revealing of the understanding that Ayn Rand had of the mechanical world that her genius’ greatest invention in Atlas Shrugged was a perpetual motion machine.
Now, admittedly, Ayn Rand never uses the phrase “perpetual motion” in the novel. Instead she whips up a concoction that never needs recharging because it collects the static energy from the atmosphere around it. The charge of creating a perpetual motion machine comes into play when Dagny Taggart observes that the engine “could run forever and never need recharging.” That, in a nutshell, is a perpetual motion machine or engine.
This conceptualization reminds me of the Zero Point Modules or ZPM’s used in later years of Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. A technobabble workaround for the vast amounts of energy needed to power the gates, shields and weapons in that fictional universe. But at least those writers admitted that the modules, which drew energy from other spatial dimensions, did eventually run out of juice. They appear to be interdimensional disposable batteries, since the writers never got around to explaining how the modules tapped the energy, or how they could be recharged or even created in the first place.
It’s possible that the ship in Stargate Universe siphoned the energy from stellar fusion directly into ZPM’s, but they didn’t have much of a chance to technobabble about how Destiny stored the energy it drew from flying into the photosphere of a star and collecting plasma before SyFy canned the series.
There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge.
“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
Once upon a time there was a forum at Dan Carlin’s podcast website. The forum has since been deleted, and the posts only sporadically appear in the Wayback Machine now. It’s hit or miss to find any of the almost six thousand posts I logged there over the decade or more I haunted the forums. For a very long time I considered those forums the best place, the only place, to go to argue politics and philosophy. I was probably always wrong on that score, as I was wrong on so many other scores back then, but it felt almost like home for a period of a few years. Before it turned sour. Before it was dominated by the hateful few who had successfully driven off the thinkers there.
I discovered Dan Carlin’s podcasts, Common Sense and Hardcore History through an advertisement on Freetalk Live, back in the days when I was a hardcore Libertarian idealist. Back when I would show up to argue things I didn’t understand with people I didn’t understand and couldn’t figure out. I was lucky if I could extract a rebuttal from the cryptic lines of text they would type in reply to my (in my mind) clearly worded arguments. It took many years and lots of fumbling to realize that what I thought was clearly worded was generally the same mish-mash of disconnected and unconnectable personal anecdotes turned into text strings that I was presented with by other members of that and other forums. Groups of the blissfully unsuspecting that I would descend on like a vengeful wraith of anarchist freedom gone mad, sputtering coded gibberish that I’m sure most people couldn’t even wrap their heads around. At least, that is how it seems in hindsight.
Dan Carlin was one of the pioneers of what is now a burgeoning industry of informational and news podcasts, and I was an early listener of his starting with about the thirtieth podcast of Common Sense. I signed up for his community forum in January of 2007. I made enemies almost immediately and was driven off by old-timers there a few times. I was driven off only to return the next time Dan posted a Common Sense show that I wanted to argue about. I say driven off because that is what was happening. Dan Carlin had and still has some quaint ideas about the value of input from those uninterested in conversation, what most of the world today labels as trolls. I wasn’t above trolling in my own way, but I never understood why clear attempts to end conversation were never stopped by the many moderators present on the forum. It was years later that I realized that they were never going to do anything about these trolls. Dan Carlin’s expressed opinion on the subject of freedom of speech was that everyone had a right to speak even when that speech was specifically intended to disrupt. As my willingness to be verbally assaulted waxed and waned, and as the membership in the group altered and new people appeared to take the place of old adversaries, I would come and go infrequently.
I would come and go infrequently that is until episode 172, an episode I retitled Texas SBOE Destroys Education; an essay that I posted to this blog at the time and also posted to the forum. In that podcast Dan appears to suggest that creationism could be successfully taught alongside modern scientific theories about the history and future of the universe, a point which he quickly denied on the forums and yet remains exactly as I stated in the podcast. When I protested that the last thing that should be done was to compromise the scientific method in such a fashion, I was immediately laid upon by a large section of the forum’s membership, an overwhelming number of which were christians (like the majority of American society itself) christians who wanted their views taught in school as if their beliefs were the unassailable truth. Truth with a capital T, better than the results of scientific inquiry.
After being badgered for days about how science is itself ultimately unprovable in a post-modernist sense, after being badgered for my atheism and how atheism also makes claims about reality which cannot be proven, I created a secondary thread with the title Atheism is Not a Belief System. I honestly thought I’d at least get the rest of the atheists on the forums on board with this subject line. I mean, not having a belief in a thing isn’t itself a belief, right?
It’s funny in hindsight, this naive belief that two people could agree about anything on the internet. What happened over the years, from June 2, 2010 to the day the boards went down late in 2016 can only be described as a cluster fuck. There really isn’t any other words that will cover the mess that resulted from the creation of that thread.
Part of the problem was mine. It took years for me to distinguish between those offering friendly criticism and those who were militantly convinced that all atheists were of the devil. The last group was pretty clearly demarcated because most of them were incoherent even though they offered walls of text as explanations. It was during the attempted shepherding of this rolling orgy in a cesspool that a lot of my current attitudes towards substandard attempts to troll, incoherent if firmly believed arguments, and just plain bad attempts to be funny were formed. Since the people trolling the thread to silence conversation were never going to be punished by the administrators of the forum, I was forced to simply block the trolls who could not be reasoned with. I blocked the dangerously deranged and mildly threatening alike, attempting to force the thread onto the course that the title implied, all to no avail. The militant christians of the forum made it a religion thread, until I finally gave them what they wanted. I changed the title to That Religion Thread. This was the first of several subject lines I gave it. Every one of the new names I came up with were blatant attempts to murder the thread. I would change the title and the OP’s contents to reflect what the forum’s participants were saying at the other end of the (then 400 page) thread, and I did that several times over the course of years. The effort was largely ineffective, although I did get the thread to roll briefly off the front page of the forum once. Once.
As I became more and more disillusioned with the concept of online arguments per se, I spent less and less time on the one board that I had ever managed to get a foothold in. In the end my cutting wit would get me banned from just about every forum I joined. If I was not banned outright, I would simply submit to the pressure to leave. I’ve never been one to overstay my welcome. This eventually became true at Dan Carlin’s forum as well. The only time I came back was when someone would resurrect the zombie atheism thread specifically to get us old-timers (now I was one of them) to come back and argue about something. The orifice-plugging spectacle reached a staggering 608 pages in length before Dan pulled the plug on the forum itself, finally admitting what I had attempted to illustrate to him several times; that some form of authority is required for a productive conversation to occur. He has now moved his community to Facebook, where any user can remove anybody for any reason they please from a conversation. This also impedes productive conversations, but at least those threatening your life can be kept from seeing your activity online there.
That is the story so far, the history of the title of this piece without the meat of the argument for it. Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. I will now attempt to codify six hundred and eight pages of sporadic on-topic posts into one sound argument that I think will cover the ground intended. I’d like to hope that it turns out better than the time I told my mom I don’t want to talk about god anymore, I’d rather talk about something important, but please do not asphyxiate yourselves waiting to see if it will work.
Part of the problem of outlining this argument is that, for me, the argument has always been transparently easy to understand. Ever since first discovering that belief in god wasn’t universal, way, way back when, back in the days of Sunday school religious indoctrination, grade school prayers and mandatory church attendance for the children while the parents stayed home and slept in. It was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader I was going to run across the fact that some people didn’t believe in god in some book somewhere.
Reading Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill as a teenager was my introduction to disbelief. Black Velvet is what Winston Churchill called how he saw the afterlife. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an actual ending to existence scared the crap out of me. I doubled down and became a born-again christian, crawling to the front of the church in my desperation to believe the way everyone around me seemed to believe. The way my grandparents believed and were so happy with. I wanted to be like them.
But it was useless. I was never going to believe the way they did because I wasn’t them. I also wasn’t my parents who cheerfully packed us up and sent us to church with the grandparents while they went back to sleep. I had questions and I wanted answers to those questions, even if the answers to those questions scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t until I found a kindred spirit in the form of the Wife that I knew that it would be OK to simply admit that I didn’t believe the fairy tales written in the holy books that everyone took so seriously. Our children have never set foot in a church unless we went with them; which means they’ve been to several weddings and several funerals at churches and not much else. So I proved I was not like my parents or my grandparents to my children and to myself.
But what does it mean, Atheism? Is it different than Agnosticism? What about Freethought? The answer to that question is that every single person who takes on one of those labels has some different conceptualization of what the label means to them, exactly like any other descriptive term applied to any individual whether that term applies to sex, gender, race, religion, job function or area of study and thousands of other quantifying parameters that I can’t be bothered to mention. So if I tell you atheism means x I’ll get a majority of atheists who will probably disagree with me the moment I state it that concretely.
What my years of shepherding that thread proved to me is that the devil is in the details of the phrase Atheism is not a Belief System. Depending on how you define atheism, you will or won’t agree with it being a belief system, which itself has a definition that most people will argue with you about.
Christianity is a belief system. The system parameters involve accepting some basic tenets of the faith. Jesus Christ is the savior. He was born of a virgin. He is part of a triumvirate made up of the father, son and holy ghost. These rules were worked out in deep lines of blood over the course of centuries, and still there are those who want to be called christian and yet not believe in these three basic things.
Islam is a belief system. I don’t know it as well, having been raised a protestant christian in the middle of the bible belt, but Islam’s basic tenets are that Muhammad is the last prophet of god and that the Qu’ran is the word of god set down by him. What is in the book and the associated writings of historical mullahs makes up the system that constrains Islamic faith.
Every single religion has a book or philosophy associated with it that constrains it. Very few people before the enlightenment era in Europe (1800’s) knew what was written in the books that Catholics and Protestants venerated, and even today reading the Qu’ran in any language aside from Arabic is considered problematic by many islamic sects. So if you don’t speak and read Arabic, you won’t know what is in that book even now. That’s not to say that the books are not available, even to disbelievers, but that very few people actually read the books that contain the rules defining the religion they ascribe to. This leads to its own set of problems, but in the end even the hucksters who misuse tradition are constrained by the rules they invent to describe their variation of the religion they promote.
This is not true of atheism. Even if I venture to define the word atheism there is no set of rules that an atheist can be punished with that constrains what an atheist believes or doesn’t believe about the universe. Other atheists will tell you that’s not atheism but they have no ability whatsoever to make you stop claiming you are an atheist. There is no rules committee that will kick you out, no authority that will seek to force you to conform, no structure of any kind aside from simply being willing to refer to yourself as an atheist and suffer the consequences. Consequences inflicted by believers everywhere. Here ends the discussion of belief systems.
Atheism, in a broad sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Strong atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.
That is a workable definition of atheism, theism being the root word and a- being added to denote the lack of. A lack of belief in gods. Even that broadest of definitions will get some atheists’ panties in a wad, and they will definitely squall at my insistence that a lack of belief is not itself a system of belief. There are many, many atheists out there which share nothing in common with me aside from the fact that neither of us believe in gods. There are even some who believe in things which aren’t gods and also aren’t demonstrable by science, but that is another discussion and an entirely different article.
Atheism is loosely congruent with skepticism. Skeptics and atheists both question things that the vast majority of humanity agrees to, but that is about as far as their agreement goes. There is far more agreement between humanists and atheists in general than there is between atheism and skepticism, the latter being quite capable of disbelieving things which are actually demonstrable. They simply dispute the findings of science. Groups like The Skeptics Guide to the Universe combat that kind of silliness, but it’s a never ending game of whack-a-mole trying to keep the disbelievers from using skepticism as a cover.
Humanism arose in the enlightenment era, along with the re-emergence of atheism from the hiding that a millennium of persecution by Catholic Europe had forced it into. Humanism quickly split into two factions; Religious Humanism and Rationalist Humanism. Religious Humanism became loosely affiliated with Deism, both of which have almost vanished into history. Rationalist Humanism rebranded itself as Secular Humanism, and if you were going to point to an atheist belief system, Secular Humanism is its standard bearer. But not all atheists are comfortable with the Humanist moniker, making humanism its own belief system, functionally different than the looser term atheist.
people who describe atheism as philosophy, ideology, or something analogous are trying to depict atheism as being much more complicated than it is.
When pressed by believers to explain what atheists believe, I am frequently forced to reference other sources as a bulwark for the concepts I’m trying to relate. Believers rely on the sureness of the majority to justify the things they believe. The empirical nature of human experience justifies doing this right up to the point where we start talking about things we believe but cannot prove directly. A freethinker cannot rely on the comfort of the majority because a freethinker has none to fall back on. A freethinker must be able to tie what they think to concretes that are demonstrable so that the believer will be unable to disbelieve the thing being demonstrated. An agnostic will simply claim no knowledge on subjects they cannot demonstrate. Agnosticism is useful when conducting experiments, I’ve used it several times myself when running experiments that I really want to understand the outcomes of. But I am not agnostic about the subject of the existence of god. I have found no proof for the existence of god.
Test it yourself. The next time you are asked to pray, don’t close your eyes and bow your head. Notice anything? No sense of otherness? No sense of being in the presence of some greater power? Look around. Do you see those other unbowed heads? They too question the existence of god, but not enough to stop going to church. To synagogue. To the mosque. Why do we do this? Jesus said that we should do our praying in private. Why do we insist we must pray in public? Force others to pray in public? Enforced compliance? Discipline that forces the next generation to tread the exact same path we were forced to tread? Break that mold and see what is outside of it. You might like it.
When you observe the beauty of nature, realize that the beauty is anchored in naturally evolved healthy forms. That is why fungus and disease repulse us. Not because they are supernaturally evil, but because they are evolved systems just like the human form; co-evolutionary systems that our evolved brains recognizes on some subliminal level as harmful.
The observation by Jonathan Ross in the video above (within the first ten minutes) that he was reluctant to refer to himself as an atheist because he didn’t see the need to define himself by what he didn’t believe in or scarcely thought about is offered as the same reason that I prefer to be tagged with the label freethinker these days. Freethinker describes my process for coming to accept facts that I encounter. Atheist merely relates my lack of belief in gods. We as humans do not all agree on the importance of faith, of having faith or of belief of any kind, and it becomes imperative that those of us who question the rampant religiosity of today’s political climate to stand up and object to it. To do that we have to not alienate the people we hope to persuade. Not adopting monikers that come pre-loaded with hatred is one of the basic things we can do to achieve this goal. Freethinker is more subtle. Freethinker is so subtle that I have encountered christians in Facebook Freethinking groups who are unaware that freethinkers in general are atheists. Are atheists because there is little rational reason to profess a belief in gods beyond a nod to the concerns raised by deists.
What is the purpose in life? Why are we alive? Here? Now? None of these questions are the kinds of things that atheism can offer answers for. Belief in a universal god, a natural god, does lend some quietude to those kinds of epistemological questions. Deism or Spinozism can be bedrock to anchor the unquiet mind upon, but most believers remain unsatisfied with a deity that they cannot ask favors of. A maker who doesn’t hate the same things the believer hates, love the same thing the believer loves. Spinoza was himself ejected from Jewish society for atheism. There wasn’t enough of god left for the believers to believe in, apparently.
This country, my country, the United States, was founded by people escaping religious persecution. Religious people who turned right around and persecuted their own people for not adhering to the doctrines that had been imported with them. The few who have stopped to question traditional beliefs, people like Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine, have been ridiculed down through history for their disbelief (in the case of Paine) or qualified belief (in the case of Jefferson) at the same time they are celebrated for the things that lead to the creation of the United States. A godless country founded on a godless constitution. Godless for good reason; because persecution of the people through authority not founded on demonstrable principles of justice is what lead them to leave the places they came from. The rich heritage of disbelief that is this country’s birthright is being forgotten, buried under mountains of false piety, demagoguery and self-righteousness.
The judicious application of Occam’s Razor to the mountains of bullshit we are confronted with on an hourly basis in this information age is a life-saving necessity. If we don’t learn how to find air in this ocean of data, we will drown for lack of sense. These observations bring me to the core of the argument. The argument that Atheism is not a Belief System.
There is a specific piece of baggage that believers want to saddle all non-believers with. That is the baggage of revealed knowledge. Atheists are equally in the dark because they cannot know the things they claim to know. There is an intellectually rigorous approach to knowledge which questions the basis of that knowledge. This is commonly referred to in professional circles as performing your due diligence; researching your precepts to make certain they are valid. Insofar as atheism resembles agnosticism (no knowledge of) on the subject of the existence or nonexistence of a generic god, a Deist or Spinozan god, one can say with a respectable level of certainty I know this. Consequently non-believers are not in the same boat as believers. Even the average religious believing person can escape that boat, the boat of claiming certainty for things they don’t actually know, if they simply adopt this intellectual rigor for themselves. As a recent news article summarized, be willing to adopt and use the phrase I don’t know.
This argument about atheism is at its root a legal argument. Can you prove the things you believe? Can you demonstrate the existence of god beyond a shadow of a doubt? Believe whatever crazy thing you want to believe, just don’t tell me I have to believe like you, or believe anything at all without providing some kind of proof to back up the claims that are made. Why would I take a different stand? I pick my battles carefully. I created that thread on Dan Carlin’s BBS forum all those years ago with this specific argument in mind. Never mind that the SNAFU (Situation Normal: All Fucked Up) continued around me beyond my ability to control for year after year. It was the attempt to place the onus of revealed knowledge as a shared burden on the shoulders of all humanity that I initially rebelled against. You, dear reader, may disagree with me, but I think I can finally say I’m happy with the argument I’ve laid out here. The defense rests, your honor.
It is a testament to how many times I’ve rehearsed this argument in my head that this post comes pre-equipped with an addendum. Many of the arguments thrown at me in the past have been incorporated in the longer post that appears today on my blog. Much longer and much better thought out than my stumbling attempts to communicate what I thought were simple ideas all those years ago.
Still, I know what kinds of arguments I didn’t incorporate, and what kinds of objections I’ve seen in the past and already have rebuttals for. I’m going to take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few counter-arguments in advance. Saves time this way.
I’m going to start at the beginning. There is a segment of the human population who are simply afraid of atheists. Atheophobia is a thing. I’ve met quite a few of them over the years. When I run into new ones these days I can almost be bored while hitting the block button. Almost. Fear of atheists is very real and predominates a lot of political rhetoric in the world today. There is no group more targeted than the disbeliever; other than the sects of the majorities own religion that are considered threatening to those in power. Once those troublemakers are out of the way, the atheists are the main targets of hostility. We dare to say the emperor wears no clothes, and believers cannot produce the emperor’s garments or even the emperor himself in order to disprove the assertion. Fear of atheists is the basis for most of the arguments that follow.
The more determined philosophy majors decided early on to make a career out of repeating specific arguments, relying on the casual reader’s ignorance of a specific subject, philosophy and its arcane word usage and definitions, to allow their falsities to go unchallenged. If you really want to know something about fallacies and what constitutes one, here’s a list. Specifically, the Argument from Ignorance was oft-cited, so I feel that it warrants specific mention.
Argument from ignorance, also known as argumentum ad ignorantiam or “appeal to ignorance” (where “ignorance” stands for: “lack of evidence to the contrary”), is a fallacy in informal logic. It asserts that a proposition is true because it has not yet been proven false, it is “generally accepted” (or vice versa). This represents a type of false dichotomy in that it excludes a third option, which is that there is insufficient investigation and therefore insufficient information to prove the proposition satisfactorily to be either true or false.
Argument from Ignorance is an informal fallacy; which means, the argument could also be true and still be fallacious. Life is a series of imperfect decisions based on partial knowledge; and that’s when things are most certain. The least certain involves a coin flip and deciding whether you want to believe the coin’s conclusion or doubt it. One can possess good reasons for thinking that something does not exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, much more a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall more duly under the arena of pragmatism (Occam’s Razor, the law of parsimony) wherein a position must be demonstrated or proven in order to be upheld, and therefore the burden of proof is on the argument’s proponent. That is, the person who wants you to believe in a thing. In this case, a god.
Believers will frequently fall back to Pascal’s wager next. “Ah,” they’ll say, “but if you believe in god you get to go to heaven. So it’s safer to believe in god and not go to hell.” In a side note about my personal journey to freethought, Hell was one of the first concepts that I discarded, and I did this for my own sanity. Which version of god is the god I need to believe in? This is important because if you postulate that avoidance of hell is the goal, you need to be sure to observe the right rules and not the wrong ones. Since religious texts are generally self-contradictory given enough time and permutation of belief, you really can’t know from them which laws to follow and which ones not to. How can you possibly know how not to end up in hell?
As for that, I deemed that if god was love then hell had to be of our own creation; literally, if you are living in hell you had a hand in making it, in its continuance. I can understand why suffering people don’t just kill themselves. I’ve been disabled and stricken with vertigo and migraines on a regular basis for ten years and more. But if you experience hell, you are the one that can change that experience. No one else will be as capable as you are of correcting your personal dilemma. You don’t go to hell when you die. That would not be the actions of a loving god. You would find perfection hellish if what you value is not the values of the inhabitants of the afterlife.
It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.
After discarding the human-made construct of hell, I could breath a lot easier and it made the rest of the argument that much easier to deal with. A believer might well object “you can’t just get rid of hell,” but the truth is that you can. In the christian religion everyone has a personal god. You take god into your heart and if you listen to him he tells you the truth. Listen to your heart. You’ll hear it say “there is no hell” unless you need to punish others so much that you cannot let the concept go. If you can’t then I really do feel sorry for you.
The next target in the argument for god varies radically based on the personal experience of the believer. A favorite argument of my past tormentors was the concept that evidence proves something. They would call evidentialism into question, as if the requiring of evidence before ascribing to a certain belief is somehow suspect or disqualifying. Contrary to the hand waving excuses I’ve heard repeatedly, requiring evidence before believing something is a generally accepted practice for anything not involving high-browed philosophy and religion.
While no sensible epistemologists generally urge people to disregard their evidence when forming beliefs…
An oft-retyped summation of my willingness to accept evidence as proof runs as follows; while gravity may only be a theory, I wouldn’t suggest jumping off a tall building and expecting to float. Evidence dictates you will fall to the earth at a pretty predictable rate and cease to exist in a living state pretty shortly after contact with a hard surface. Please note that not only are all the concepts in this summation open to question if you start questioning evidentialism, but I could just as easily be describing how to bake a cake as I am trying to communicate a crucial fundamental understanding of the universe. Gravity exists whether you believe in it or not.
“Correlation is not causation but it sure is a hint.”
I think this came up in relation to an argument about the Big Bang origin of the universe and whether or not all the stuff in the bang existed before the bang. Physics will tell you it had to exist before time/space existed or else there wouldn’t be a universe to exist now. So there was a before before space/time. What that might be is a matter of the highest speculation, but then we are talking about the suggested existence or non-existence of a creator god here. Hard to beat the infinite regress of creator gods to explain the previous creator god, much more likely is the infinite string of universes coalescing and dispersing in their own little space/time bubbles. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.
Finally, the last argument worth mentioning is “Granted you can’t prove god exists; but then how do you prove love exists?” I always assumed the believer was wanting me to capitulate in a sobbing mess and swear my everlasting love for god almighty in light of this observation. I mean, you have to grant that love exists without proof, right? Except that you really don’t. This is one of the oldest problems in human existence, the foundation of what is responsible for more killing than every war in history. Does she love me? Does he love me? Luckily, science has an answer for that,
The researchers said that their study, entitled Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, had successfully obtained the “first empirical evidence of love-related alterations in brain functional architecture”.
There you have it, proof that love really exists. Yes, I know. I’ve just destroyed all of romanticism.
As an atheist or freethinker or agnostic or skeptic or whatever disbelieving label I choose to adopt later, I don’t have to prove the infinite nature of the universe, or the non-existence of an intelligent hand in it’s creation. I don’t have to prove these things any more than any believer is capable of proving that the opposite is true. That is the nature of a belief, as opposed to a fact or knowledge. I can freely believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) I can even refer to you that group’s website, venganza.org. I don’t have to provide one shred of evidence for the FSM’s existence to have a belief in him; or for that matter, to have him represented at any event in which participation by varying beliefs is encouraged. That was the purpose for which the FSM was created. A religion based on eating pasta, drinking beer and love for everyone. In the FSM, disbelievers finally came up with a god worth believing in.
The FSM is just the latest in a series of fanciful creations presented in an attempt to prove to believers that they were pretending that they could know things that can’t be known. A host of previous creatures that include the original satanism church, pink unicorns and the floating teapot mentioned previously all leading up to the FSM and Pastafarianism. May the blessings of his noodly appendages be upon you. All of these creations purposefully misunderstood by the believers who encounter them and refuse to understand. Believers who protest “you’re just being silly.” Yes. We aren’t the only ones that observation can be applied to.
Edit history: General wordsmithing throughout and the addition of the atheophobia section 03/24/2018. Added a sentence declaring why I was better acquainted with christianity to the Islam paragraph, and added a link to my origin of the universe postulation in the addendum 10/15/2018. Migration to WordPress 1/7/2019. Added Pastafarianism doesn’t kill image 2/23/2019
Written reference to the superstitious fear of the number thirteen dates to the late 1800s. Its origin is conjectural (a matter of guesswork). The term triskaidekaphobia first appeared in the early 1900s. It was derived from treiskaideka, the Greek word for thirteen + phobia, fear of = a fear of thirteen. (Google search result)
I’m a fan of all things thirteen. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this in my news feed,
Thirteen is supposedly a bad number because the twelve disciples plus Jesus equals thirteen, the first reference that she offers for the fear of that day and/or number. I hadn’t heard the cycles (moon, menstrual) argument before. I have never (and I do mean never) heard the triskaidekaphiliac women’s day argument before.
The thirteenth is my lucky day. I was born on the thirteenth. I got married on the thirteenth because the wife insists I remember things that fall on the thirteenth day of the month. She also scheduled the births of our children (C-sections are like that) for the thirteenth of the month. It isn’t her fault the children didn’t actually emerge on those days (birth is like that) So when Friday the thirteenth rolls around I enjoy the double-whammy of good luck; my favorite day of the week and my favorite day of the month combined into one great day to celebrate. I am the biggest promoter of triskaidekaphilia that I know of aside from this guy.
What I’m trying to say is I of all people should have heard the women’s day argument before, and I haven’t. So I’m going to say Friday the thirteenth being a women’s day is the fiction. Hope that clears it all up for you.
The failure to teach mathematics in practical social and political terms, boils down to a failure to teach logic and discriminating understanding. The great evil, in my humble opinion which haunts our enterprise, and I say this realizing I’m setting the fox among the chickens, the great evil that has been allowed to flourish in the absence of mathematical understanding is relativism. And what is relativism? It’s the idea that there is no distinction between shit and shinola. That all ideas are somehow operating on equal footing.
So, one person is a chaos theorists another is a follower of the revelations of this or that new-age guru, someone else is channeling information from the Pleiades, and we have been taught that political correctness demands that we treat all these things with equal weight. Because we have no mathematical ability, no logical ability, we don’t know how to ask the questions that expose some positions as preposterous, trivial, insulting to the intelligence and unworthy of repetition.
So we are all very comfortable bashing science, and flailing away at that, but that isn’t our enemy. Science is capable of undertaking it’s own reformation and critique and has been engaged in that fairly vigorously for sometime. The enemy that will really subvert the enterprise of building a world based on clarity is the belief that we cannot point out the pernicious forms of idiocy that flourish in our own community, and this problem is growing worse all the time.
Terence McKenna goes on like that for quite a bit longer, but you can get the gist of what he means, the part I wanted to stress, from this three paragraph transcription. That your science, my science, isn’t the same as science itself; and that science isn’t at fault for this discrepancy. That the brown stuff on your shoes actually is shit and not polish, and we can determine that quite easily. The conjecture that both propositions are equal is laughable on its face. That relativism is itself without merit and probably one of the greatest evils currently at play in society.
This hour-long segment is part of an even larger audio/video work known as The Trialogueswhich appears to be available in full from Rupert Sheldrake’s website. Expand your mind.
Everything that gets done by humans as a group requires humans as a group to do it. There will always be free-ridership and people who get more out than they put in. Should we then say “fuck it” and climb back up in the trees? Go back to the caves because the trees were a bad idea? Where does this regression end?
Surveys and studies have been conducted that show that investment in education yields benefits far beyond the dollars invested. Studies have also shown that barrier-free healthcare yields better outcomes for the vast majority of people living in a system. That these benefits translate to better productivity for more years for more people.
Only stupid people argue against investments that profit everyone including themselves. Even those people who object to lazy people getting free stuff.
I started to write this post after Jim posted Unknown unknowns over at Stonekettle Station, which was a post in response to the tempest in a teapot that represented the 24 hour news cycle reporting on the clinic standoff and shooting incident in Colorado Springs. I shelved it for various reasons at first, none of them really earth-shattering. Of course, a week later and we have the inexplicable mass shooting in San Bernardino, which instantly eclipsed the previous story.
I could easily spin this into an screed against the gun lobby and their paid cronies in Washington DC who won’t let the CDC even study gun violence in an effort to figure out how to address it, considering that we have had more than one mass shooting every day of this year (2015) which has to be some kind of record that no society on the face of this earth is really interested in breaking…
…but that isn’t the article I want to write. This isn’t going to be the article I started out writing, either. The issue is much bigger than the specific subject of what we know or don’t know about a specific person set on doing wrong, or having been caught doing wrong. It is even bigger than the problem that Jim was trying to address, the 24 hour news cycle, which I agree probably represents the greatest threat to human civilization in the modern age. The need to fill time, to produce facts and counterfactuals when no hard facts are known about the specifics of the incident in question, can lead to greater and greater flights of fancy.
I turn the TV off when that feeding frenzy starts. It is hard enough to separate the wheat from the chaff on good days. On bad days like the two events above bring, listening to the news just feeds confirmation bias until you end up looking and sounding like an idiot.
I will include the specific arguments for the Colorado Springs incident in this post, but the point that I’m seeing come into focus now that the shooter has appeared in court and indicted himself is the argument about what we know vs. what we believe. How we can know what we think we know, and how is that different than belief?
That is the reason why the 24 hour news cycle is such a threat. Being not much more than the talking heads that sold soap in the early days of television, the current crop of news faces appear to have even less familiarity with what facts are and why fact-checking is important. They are after all just selling soap. Keeping the most number of eyes on the screen is how they sell soap, and so the factual content of what they say isn’t the important part of the equation. That they tell you things that reinforce your beliefs on a subject so that you will keep watching is.
Most of the white-looking people in the US trust the police intrinsically, for example. Most of us older types were raised on police dramas portraying the cops as the good guys who enforce the laws and keep the peace. It is very uncomfortable for most of us to be confronted with stories if entire police departments covering up the details of killings done at their hands. And yet, time after time over the last few years, we have been shown just how human police departments are everywhere in the US. Be it Chicago, Baltimore or Saint Louis, just about anywhere USA, there are examples of police who brazenly violate laws and procedures who are then protected by their brothers in uniform.
This really isn’t news. If you’ve been paying attention you would have run across stories by people like Radley Balko who have been documenting police excess for several decades now. The police are after all only human. If you were in their place you would act no differently than they would, because that is what humans do. But that doesn’t excuse the excess, it is a point of data that needs to be accounted for when deciding what you know or don’t know about any given subject.
For the black or brown people who are almost always the bad guys in police dramas, the revelation that cops are only human really isn’t news either. They’ve lived with the reality of constant police scrutiny for generations. So much so that stories abound of fathers and mothers cautioning their children not to become police statistics. So it is no wonder that the chant black lives matter resounds with them. The counter offered by clueless whites that all lives matter is heard by these same people as just another call for them to sit down and be quiet. How is this possible? How can realities and beliefs about these realities be so widely separated?
When it comes right down to it, what you know with certainty is a very small number of things. Whether it is night or day. Whether it is cold or hot. You know these things because you can test them directly with your senses. Solipsists will argue that you can’t even know those things because we are all just brains in jars at best, but I’d like us all to pretend that the shadows on the cave walls actually represent something real, and try to make sense of that. If that much can’t be granted, then there is little point in continuing to read this. Even less in my continuing to write.
Beyond what you can test yourself (fire burns) there are grades of factual knowledge which you can probably safely rely on. At each point where the facts exchange hands, the ownership of that data has to be documented to be trusted. This is why, when doing research, it is important to seek out source material and not just rely on wikipedia. The more obscure the subject matter the less reliable secondary sources are.
When watching the news on television or reading news stories on any other site than AP, Reuters or UPI you are already dealing with information that has been through at least three hands if not dozens. When you’ve gone beyond the point where the witness is being interviewed in person, you are dealing with evidence that wouldn’t be accepted in court. That doesn’t mean it is without value, it just means the news you are being offered could be just this side of fantasy.
It might even be pure fantasy. Case in point, the FOX/conservative/anti-abortion counter-narrative about the Colorado Springs shooter. When I logged on Blogger that night, the first thing I saw wasn’t the Stonekettle Station article. The first article that caught my eye was a piece over at Friendly Atheist in which Ted Cruz voices the notion that the shooter was some kind of leftist. No, I could not make something that stupid up myself. Let me quote a bit;
Cruz is basing that characterization on a supposed voter registration form in which Dear was listed as a woman. Whether it’s a mistake, or Dear was just messing around, or simply not the right form, we don’t know, but no other evidence indicates that he was transgender.
There’s even less evidence that he was a “leftist.”
The problem that I had with Jim’s Unknown unknowns piece now surfaces. Jim mentions this story in opposition to the reports (which he attributes to Planned Parenthood) that the shooter was heard to say “no more baby parts” as he was being arrested. But the contrast between the veracity of these two stories is as marked as they are in opposition to each other.
The statement no more baby parts was repeated by an officer to a reporter directly on scene, who dutifully passed it on to their viewing audience. While that is hearsay and not evidence admissible in court; the officer if he were to appear in court could repeat the statement and it would be admissible. It would also be accepted by an overwhelming number of juries who trust police officers to be truthful (see above) even in the face of so much evidence that police will lie to protect their own.
Since this case isn’t about one of their own, and since the police showed remarkable restraint in bringing a cop killer in alive, I was inclined to believe the statement of the arresting officer. That the shooter (not alleged, he plead guilty) repeated a version of the same statement at his hearing just confirms the motivation that lead him to commit the crimes he is guilty of.
On the other hand, the preferred story of conservatives/anti-abortionists is based on what? Essentially no evidence whatsoever, more wishful thinking than anything else. And yet it is repeated by a Republican Presidential candidate as if it was the unquestionable truth.
That is the nature of belief. It doesn’t require facts. Facts are counterproductive because they can be questioned. If facts are presented that counter a belief, it only takes the briefest scrutiny to discover or manufacture an anomaly which the believer will use to discard the entirety of the factual information presented. Ted Cruz wants to believe that the shooter couldn’t be one of his fellow anti-abortionists. Ted Cruz believes that leftists are dangerous people, and that LGBT people are a threat to his way of life. The story he repeats is ready-made to fit into his preconceived view of the world, and it matters not one bit that the story makes no sense on its face. That the average liberal and LGBT person would be in support of Planned Parenthood and consequently wouldn’t see a need to attack one of their clinics never enters into the mind of a conservative repeating this laughable story.
Given the history of attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the current cloud of controversy artificially created by anti-abortion activists faking videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood selling body parts, the story of a shooter in a clinic almost serves itself up ready-made as a vehicle to attack the religious right and conservatives in general. Of course they would want to craft a counter-narrative (however flimsy) to give themselves an out, a way to disavow accountability for their actions over the last twenty years and more.
A conservative could easily counter all of the above (most probably will) with the adult equivalent of I know you are but what am I? Since about the time that Reagan was elected, conservatives started to complain about the liberal media. Even I, for a time, fell for this notion that the media was somehow biased in general against conservatives. As the years have progressed, and conservatives have created their own outlets like FOX news, conservapedia, and uncounted news sites including the whacko fringe like prisonplanet and infowars, it has become clear that conservatives aren’t satisfied with simply presenting news from their point of view. No, what they want is their own set of facts which are unassailable. Unassailable because they aren’t based on anything real.
Another example is the softer, nicer language of pro-life and pro-choice adopted by the two sides of the endless argument over abortion. Having softened the language, pollsters can get majorities of citizens in the US to say they are pro-life. Who would be against life?I’m pro-life, I’m also pro-choice; militantly pro-choice. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe that abortion should be legal gets lost in the conservative rush to declare the opposite, that the majority of Americans oppose abortion. This conservative view on the matter simply isn’t true as polling shows.
What has occurred since the creation of FOX news is the division of the US into two camps; one of those camps thinks they are right, and the rest of us are liberal. In their attempt to prove that the rest of the media is based on a liberal conspiracy, conservatives have consciously created a conspiracy of their own. A conspiracy where they tell lies which they know are lies, because the ends justify the means.
When you evade the truth, when you spin tales to hide your true goals, what you get are people who believe your lies so firmly that they will act on them as if they were truths. You get what transpired in Colorado Springs yesterday, to the embarrassment of every single person who identifies as pro-life. Remember that the next time you hear the phrase liberal media.
I don’t watch gotcha films. I don’t watch gotcha films on any subject, not just on this subject. The reason I don’t watch gotcha films is because there is no way to know whether or not what you are seeing is in any way real. The protest that “these videos are unedited” is a claim which cannot be verified, in a general sense. It is possible to fake almost anything you’d like to these days, and that ability only becomes easier with time.
What I rely on instead is my established ability to sift through a large amount of written language and recognize currents through various writers and posts. I take people at their word for goals and drives, and filter what they then say against those stated goals looking for what they say that isn’t crafted to further those goals.
That is why my first stop on visiting a site is generally the about page. This is so that I can see who funds the site, what the stated goals are, what the makeup of the management of the site looks like. With that knowledge in hand, it then becomes possible to determine what any entry on the site is placed there to achieve.
Case in point, the recent melt-down involving Planned Parenthood selling body parts from abortions they’ve performed. As the article on the subject over at Snopes.com points out;
Fetal tissue may only be used or sold post-abortion with the consent of the woman undergoing the procedure. Although some researchers may obtain fetal tissue directly from abortion clinics at their own medical facilities, others have to purchase it from middlemen who pay fees to providers such as Planned Parenthood for specimens and then resell those specimens to researchers. Planned Parenthood maintains they charge only what the law allows (i.e., what they need to cover their expenses in such transactions), while the middlemen charge a markup to cover their processing costs. But regulation of these types of transactions is somewhat murky.
So what the Republican candidates for President are tearing their hair over, and what the morons who lead the House of Representatives want to shut the government down over, is already illegal in the first place. It can’t get more illegal than it already is; and since Planned Parenthood and its leadership have not been charged with violating any laws, I’d bet that what we are witnessing is just more demagoguery and not real revelations on the issue.
I am a certified fan of Planned Parenthood and a fan of it’s current leader, the daughter of a former Texas Governor. Planned Parenthood provides vital and irreplaceable services for the poor all across the US, and services for women’s health (be they rich or poor) which cannot be obtained from any other provider in many areas of the US. If your response to this declaration is that abortion is murder, I direct you to my previously posted article titled simply Abortion, and to the hopefully soon completed EPHN article on the misunderstanding of what human life is. Abortion is a protected procedure that every woman will contemplate at some point in their lives. Those women who deny this are lying to you and possibly even to themselves.
It is worth noting that the incident which is most often quoted, the one related by Carly Fiorina in the second Republican Presidential debate, never actually occurred in any of the video that Ms. Fiorina could have seen. So she was lying on national television during a debate. This really isn’t news because candidates lie all the time (Lips are moving? They’re lying) but usually it’s about things that they’ll do if elected. Rational types might hold out the hope that threats to end legal abortion in the US are equally lies since the President cannot override decisions set down by the Supreme Court, but there is plenty of other mischief that an activist President can do with his or her office.
Arguably the worst aspect of this scam video, beyond the harm it will do to reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood, is the reality that Dr. Nucatela’s life is all but ruined for the foreseeable future. At this moment, anti-choice extremists are likely fanning out around the internet, collecting damaging information about her; finding out her home address and contact information; discovering whether she has children and where they go to school; planning rallies outside her house; or worse. Based on wrongful charges, she now represents Enemy Number One for googly-eyed radicals, fueled by visions of aborted fetuses and the false impression of Planned Parenthood as the Walmart of black market fetus organs.
Real people with real lives in the real world whose lives are ruined because of these faked videos. Faked in that the materials sold are not sold for profit, and are a part of a vital network of research and transplantation that saves lives.
If you doubt that this is true, then I highly recommend the episode of Radiolab titled Gray’s Donation which goes into precisely how many lives the materials from a single aborted fetus can be impacted in a positive manner. A fetus that had no chance for life because of the birth defects he would have suffered from, in the specific instance of the Gray’s investigation.
That is the practice that this anti-abortion hate group wants to end. Let these facts sink in for a minute.
I’ve taken the time to write this because I was recently sent a link to an article on Rational Review News (a site I used to follow pretty regularly) that was so patently false on its face that I found it hard to believe that the same guy I used to rely on for libertarian news could be so demonstrably wrong on the subject. Proof that, if nothing else, the Balkanization of internet information continues unabated. Clear thinking and understanding of a subject has never been more critical than it is today, nor has it ever been more wanting, apparently.
One can hope that the effect of exposing this obscure process to light will lead to more transparency on the subject, but I personally doubt it. Few people really are interested in the details of transactions that occur all around them without their noticing. Subjects like this only occasionally see the light of day, and the outrage in response is predictable and almost humdrum in its monotonous outrage. If the individual who is outraged over fetal tissue used for research were to spend time investigating the subject of medical history and the process of obtaining materials for research historically, the outrage over the acquisition of cadavers for medical schools would be something we’d never hear the end of. Because that, historically, was a very dark process indeed.
The anti-abortion industry having beaten this dead horse long enough will simply find another soft target to attack in their never-ending drive to stop abortion in all cases. They really aren’t interested in truth, reality or the constraints of biology or biological life. The procedure is evil in their eyes, and evil should not be tolerated. Their own blindness to the reality of human life ensures that the fight will never end, because women who do not want to have children will continue to end pregnancies whether the procedure is legal or not. Whether the woman is pro-life or pro-choice, the choice occurs anyway.
The long and tortuous process of holding these fakirs accountable for their damaging actions continues to unfold in various state courts,
After the videos surfaced last year, Dan Patrick, the Texas lieutenant governor, a Republican, asked the Republican district attorney in Harris County to open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood in August. A grand jury ended up indicting Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, and taking no action against Planned Parenthood.
As the title of the source article states, the charges in Texas were dropped. Texas as a political entity hates itself in a very weird and self-destructive way. This comes out in events like the above, with religious crusaders elected to office attempting to score religious points in a political arena simply don’t understand what the law says even though they are trained lawyers. Luckily for justice, there are other states who aren’t as consumed with self-loathing as Texas,
Prosecutors filed 14 felony counts of unlawfully recording people without their permission — one count for each person — as well as one count of conspiracy to invade privacy.
Becerra, a veteran congressman who became attorney general in January, said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said.
The problem in all these cases, and there were cases being investigated in several states after the videos were released, is that the concerns and laws protecting privacy are butting heads with the first amendment right of the press and freedom of speech. It is a near-impossibility for a public entity like Planned Parenthood to win a case of slander or libel against the perpetrators of these fraudulent videos. It might be possible to seek damages from them if they weren’t essentially penniless conspiracy fantasists in the first place. The chances of any case being successfully prosecuted against them on any grounds fades to a faint hope when you understand the hurdles placed in the way of justice in this case.
Justice would require that Daleiden and his conspirator Sandra Merritt go in front of groups of people who think like they do and explain why what they did was wrong. This is the form justice should take, because I don’t think that they or their supporters understand the injustice they engaged in. The harm that they have committed in their blind ambition to see abortion ended in the US and across the world. Real people harmed in real ways by their delusions about life in the womb. It is criminal that they cannot be shown reason that will convince them on this subject.