Atheism is not a Belief System

Throwing off the baggage of revealed knowledge. We don’t need its dead weight any longer.

“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.”

Bertrand Russell, Is There a God?

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.

R. Elisabeth Cornwell at TAM 2012 – Social Networks: Civilizing the Future

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 don’t hold your breath waiting to see if it will work. I’m not going to, either.

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. Back in the olden days before the internet and cable television, the days when you had to read books to learn anything, and you had to know which books told you what thing you needed to know to even be able to pull off that herculean task. But it was bound to happen eventually. As a voracious reader who wouldn’t have minded living at the library, 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 the name Winston Churchill gave to the afterlife. A featureless non-consciousness with no experience of time. Eternal dreamless sleep. Rather than instantly converting me to atheism, the idea that there was an 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 those questions 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. Now I will move on to hazard a definition of atheism. I’m going to cite a source rather than walk out on that limb all by myself.

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.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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, as a mode of critical thinking, 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.

When people talk about “isms,” they are referring to some “distinctive doctrine, theory, system, or practice” like liberalism, communism, conservatism, or pacifism. Atheism has the suffix “ism,” so it belongs in this group, right? Wrong: the suffix “ism” also means a “state, condition, attribute, or quality” like pauperism, astigmatism, heroism, anachronism, or metabolism. Is astigmatism a theory? Is metabolism a doctrine? Is anachronism a practice? Not every word that ends in “ism” is a system of beliefs or an “ism” in the way people usually mean it. Failure to realize this can be behind other errors here.

Is Atheism An Ism? The Wayback Machine.

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.

BBC, A Brief History of Disbelief presented by Jonathan Ross. Youtube link as of last edit.

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.

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. Hitler was not an atheist and atheists don’t kill people for having a religion. That argument figured highly in numbers of mindless repetitions, but it was a stupid argument so I won’t write about it here. Austin Cline who wrote for About.com at the dawn of the internet age has written much more about this subject than I ever will. Go read his work if you just have to have that argument addressed right here and now. I will, however, take a few extra paragraphs to deflate a few of the better thought out counters that I’ve run across in the past. I will be saving everyone some time and frustration this way. No one needs more frustration, and everyone wants more time these days.

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 majority’s own religion, sects 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.

Wikipedia, Argument from Ignorance

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 doesn’t exist, an idea captured by Bertrand Russell’s teapot, the analogy I started this article with. However, the existence of a creator god, or much more, a specific religious conception of the creator god, would fall 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 has to prove that thing is true or real. 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.

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

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…


Wikipedia entry on Evidentialism

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.”

Edward Tufte

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. Added the TAM2012 youtube link, updated links to current blog location 4/22/2019. Redirected some links from archive.org to blog posts created on the blog from the archives records. Other minor wordsmithing. Recreated the quote from About.com for “is atheism an ism?” after finding it in the Wayback Machine again. Added the war in the name of atheism link and descriptive sentences to the first paragraph of the addendum. Added seven states image and associated links 7/28/2019.

A Gordian Knot of Information

Fuzz

I believe. I believe. To hell with learning anything. To hell with putting five goddamned minutes into it. No, I believe. Like we haven’t learned anything in 20,000 years of history. Like a caveman staring fearfully at the approaching storm.

“Grog believe thunder is giant farts of god mammoth who live in sky!”

A whole worldview, science, history, meteorology, summed up in one line.

Though … given human nature, there was probably another caveman who responded with, “Bro, you lost me after ‘thunder,'” – StonekettleStation on Facebook

There is a discernible shortening of attention spans as the information age progresses. It seems some people just can’t keep up with all the information that is constantly being thrown at them. The pundits call this “information overload”. Everyone will experience this if they haven’t already. Too many messages. Too many podcasts. Too many news feeds. Too many opinions that all make interesting, if not actually valid points.

This reminds me of a frequent trope of Dan Carlin‘s on his various podcasts, the historical story of the Gordian knot in which the ruler of all Asia would be the man who could untie the knot. Alexander the Great, as legend has it, drew his sword and cut the knot, thereby convincing those in attendance that he would be the next ruler of all Asia. Modern man, faced with information overload, foolishly believes that he can cut the knot of too much information by simply declaring what he believes, devoid of any truth.

What the slicers in this allegory fail to understand is that Alexander the Great did not conquer all of Asia after cutting the knot, but was instead laid low by disease or poison and died with no clear heir to rule after him, his accumulated lands and treasure divided among his generals. There is no quick way to become informed, to solve the Gordian knot. Either you are informed or you must rely on the judgement of others who are, people trained in the areas that you lack proficiency, the oft-derided *elites* in the Trump world. If you don’t do this then you are a fool marching into battle with no estimation of the force you will face, no idea of the terrain you must traverse, no assurance that your force will even survive to take up arms when battle calls.

Your fate is written in the texts you don’t read, the advice you don’t even take time to hear. You are already laid low and dying, and you simply don’t know it yet.

The Effects of Post Modernism

Typical of my attempts to title things, this brief blurb’s title largely misses the mark. Another one of the things I wrote on those dead DanCarlin.com boards, perhaps even one of the last things I wrote. I’m sure I had some deeper point I was planning on making; but like most of my plans this one also went nowhere. How to distinguish what I wrote then from what I’m writing now? Hmm, that is a puzzler. How about the quote I selected from The Federalist article that thrashes Star Trek and liberalism? Yes, that shall be the demarcation point. What juicey bit of bullshit should I select from that piece, though? That is the question.

This was a critique of a critique that attempts to show the correlation between the decline of liberalism and the decline of Star Trek as a franchise. The postmodernism allusion was probably in reference to the now well-known belief that we live in a post-truth world. As if truth, reality, causality, really cares about human problems, a hallmark of my issue with everything postmodern. Reality continues being exactly what it was before, while the people living in it tell themselves different lies that explain it and believe that their lies change the existence of reality. but I digress.

Over nearly 50 years, “Star Trek” tracked the devolution of liberalism from the philosophy of the New Frontier into a preference for non-judgmental diversity and reactionary hostility to innovation, and finally into an almost nihilistic collection of divergent urges. At its best, “Star Trek” talked about big ideas, in a big way. Its decline reflects a culture-wide change in how Americans have thought about the biggest idea of all: mankind’s place in the universe.

In Timothy Sandefur‘s defense, he actually understands the degradation of Star Trek as a philosophical looking glass into mindless action-entertainment. This is why I haven’t considered myself a Trek fan since the Abramanation aired. I deemed Trek dead on the day that film released.  However, like nearly all things conservative, the author oversimplifies to prove his point. As an example, Star Trek 6 aired after Roddenberry died (and is one of the worst Trek films ever made. Weirdly Star Trek 2 by the same director is one of the best) but the multi-year rehabilitation of the Klingons that preceded his denouncement of their portrayal in Star Trek 6, starting with Worf on The Next Generation Enterprise is completely left out, because it complicates the point he’s trying to make.

As usual the intent to decry the ideology of another while uplifting one’s own leads to hypocrisy on the part of the writer. This is a serious problem with most conservatives these days. The real culprit here is not liberalism, but postmodernism. An ill that affects all modern ideology, philosophy and politics alike. Not just Star Trek and not just liberalism.


…and that is where I left it. For two and a half years. Why? Because I always aspire to knowing more than I know, and then the realization that I really don’t know that much brings the entire edifice crashing down. Postmodernism is an active ill in society, of that much I am certain. We can know things about the world around us, and not everything in existence is dismissible as the delusions of a weak mind. How we can know these things is a task for epistemology to figure out. That we do know them (existence exists) is not really in question here.

“Postmodernism, the school of thought that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.” Daniel Dennett

Gaming The System

I haven’t written on the subject of shootings (justified or otherwise) in quite some time.  Well, that’s not quite true. I’ve written plenty on the subject in other places over the last few years, a smidgen of which is reproduced here.  But I haven’t posted much of what I’ve written on the subject on this blog since I last wrote about the Joe Horn case in Houston several years back.

While the Zimmerman case was being argued in the court of public opinion and later in actual court (to little effect) I wrote extensively on Dan Carlin’s bulletin board system about the problems with Stalking and Shooting (one of the less clusterfucky of the threads on the DCBBS) the categorical description of the behavior that Zimmerman engaged in.

Zimmerman made a affirmative SYG case, so SYG has everything to do with it. The problem with Trayvon Martin, the problem with Marissa Alexander, is that both of them have black skin. Consequently they are looked down on, even by people who have the same color skin. This fact is borne out by statistics. So Trayvon is threatening simply because of the color of his skin; it certainly wasn’t the presence of a sidewalk, 20 feet from where he was fatally shot. Marissa was assigned a duty to retreat because she had the double curse of being female and being black. Women are routinely jailed for daring to defend themselves.

The problem with SYG is specifically this; we SHOULD have the duty to retreat in public places. Zimmerman had no business profiling and stalking that teenager. No one should expect to get a “get out of jail free” card simply because they claim self-defense. EVERYONE (including cops) should be subject to trial when someone dies at their hands. Had Zimmerman not been emboldened by what they lyingly said he was unfamiliar with, he would have stayed in his car, and Trayvon would have been alive today.

How we get to the point where we legally ‘have to’ allow women to defend themselves, is a separate discussion. Clearly special laws are required, since general laws yield outcomes like Marissa’s. Special laws giving women permission to shoot abusive men. Yeah, that’ll happen.

Dan Carlin’s BBS (archive.org)

Being the briefest of brief rehashes of content posted to a 42 page thread, and that typed up and added as a comment to an article on Reason Magazine’s site concerning the attacks on Stand Your Ground Laws that occurred after those laws were so horribly and hypocritically applied in Florida and elsewhere.

But this latest slew of problems isn’t about SYG as a perversion of an offensive action into a defensive one.  It isn’t even necessarily about guns, since one of the deaths in question involved a choke hold, not gunfire. It is about police using their unique relationship with their local prosecutor’s office to make unjustified homicides look like justified ones, allowing the offending police officers to claim vindication in the courts, when no court trials have occurred.

This was all brought back to mind when I wrote and posted yesterday’s entry on calling torture torture and not some other nicer sounding phrase. I wrote the line Police officers are filmed strangling and shooting unarmed men, and remain unprosecuted and wondered if I’d ever get around to writing that piece.  This is that piece.

Much like the torture post, this post remained unwritten because the solution to me was so obvious, and has even been related by talking heads on various news outlets.  The prosecutor’s office in nearly every county and city in the US works closely with the police, or as Jon Stewart observed at about 8:29 in this nine minute clip;

THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART WE CAN’T BREATHE – 12/4/2014
I don’t want to talk about how much searching I had to do to find this clip (editor)

Yes, it’s Law & Order, and a serious (but humorous) oversimplification, but still it has to be observed that police departments have internal investigations departments (and all of them should have) there really need to be special prosecutors appointed specifically to prosecute cases against police officers. There should be citizen oversight everywhere there is a significant police department, too.

Prosecutors work too closely with the police to be able to effectively prosecute cases against them, all of their protestations to the contrary. It is a breach of trust to even allow them to bring cases against police that they work with.  The real surprise to me is that it has taken this long for this conflict of interest to be brought to the public’s attention.

This has been true for awhile now, as many people more versed in the subject than I am have pointed out, over and over again. I’ll just point to Radley Balko as one shining example.  Time and again he has documented how police excesses go unchecked, and how most people turn a blind eye to the real costs, because it is too painful to witness.

Well, if torture hadn’t come along to interrupt the outrage, we’d still be talking about this mess.  We will probably be talking about it again after the New Year’s passes, because it isn’t going away anytime soon unless we do something to fix this broken system of ours.

You might well say, what do these police cases have to do with Joe Horn, or Zimmerman or that other case?  If you really have to ask that question, the answer of skin color probably isn’t going to sit well with you. But it is true all the same. In all these cases, the public dialog has gone out of it’s way to give latitude to the aggressor.  The dialog in Joe Horn’s case was largely supportive of his actions; and I still think he was legally justified to take the actions he took, even if I would have listened to the operator’s advice myself and let the cops handle it (because they were there and witnessed the shooting) still, his victims were black, making them easy targets to dismiss.

It’s not the race of the shooter that is in question, because the statistics show even black cops distrust black faces. It is the race (skin color) of the victim that allows their deaths to be easily dismissed.

Outside of the black communities who are protesting and outraged over the dismissal of charges against the police, the attitude still remains largely dismissive of the victims rights, of the needs of survivors and family members to see justice done, to have their day in court.  FOX (as Jon Stewart and others point out) seems willing to lead this parade of monkeys consistently seeing no evil, hearing no evil, but managing to sound pretty evil all the same.

Podcasts, Obsessions & Faulty Memory

I write about podcasts I listen to on this blog quite a bit.  There was a phase I went through when I first started listening to podcasts and having a lot of free time due to disability, a phase of needing to document the various episodes that I had enjoyed.  If you do a label search for FFRF you can see that my obsession with recording my impressions of this particular podcast was quite intense (and yet another subject that I have a series of lengthy articles on that I haven’t published.  I really need become obsessed with finishing my writing and publishing it) likely because I felt their online library lacked any real organization.

I’ve noticed this compulsion in other’s behavior over the years, a need to retain copies of all the things they’ve watched, or all the things they’ve listened to.  I had never attributed it to myself until I had time to reflect and notice the stacks and stacks of books, music and movies that cover every shelf in every room of my house.  Since that time I have consciously tried to restrict the impulse to retain every smidgen of information that I run across, trust the internet not to loose the data that seems to sieve out of my mind, everyone’s mind, unless we are reminded of it on occasion.

Besides, it has become clear over the past few years that there really isn’t time enough to watch all the things I want to watch, or listen to all the things I want to hear; much less space in my, our, homes for all that content. Space in our minds for all that memory. Youtube’s content alone expands so quickly that if you attempted to start watching it, you would never get to the end of it. My Tivo (thanks to Grande) is always full of things I want to watch, but almost never get time to watch sans distractions.   Gaming occurs while watching and listening to other content that I need to catch up on, and it all gets blended together in a sort of melange of information that I can’t separate cleanly.

Try as I might to break obsessions when I find them (I used REBT methods to quit smoking and learn to hate the taste of french fries just because both were obsessions that were bad for me) I can’t seem to shake a process once I get started on a project.  The process that I’ve gotten into with podcasts is I go back and listen to their back libraries once I’ve determined that the content is dense enough and worthy of further scrutiny.  So while I have followed Freetalk Live off and on for years, I have felt no need to go back and review the hundreds (thousands?) of hours of talk show inanity like I have for Dan Carlin’s podcasts which are generally shorter and more informative than 3 hours of random callers.  Those are just examples.  If I listed all the podcasts that I dabble in we’d be here for days. Just listing the ones I love will take hours.

My most recent project is the Radiolab podcast. I rediscovered Radiolab recently; and I say rediscovered because I remember hearing it on NPR years ago.  Or perhaps that is a false memory.  I want to say I remember it, because I remember a lot of the voices I hear on it, but I have to say that I haven’t run across an episode yet that I distinctly remember hearing on the radio. Which may be a way of saying that the internet is the modern example of public radio, television and the library all rolled up into one, because a good portion of PBS and NPR are available on the internet if you know where to look.




Apocalyptica (above) was the episode that decided me on going back and listening to the rest of the catalog for the podcast, and I had started into that list on the podcast feed when I discovered that the feed isn’t all inclusive, that there are several years (years) of episodes on the website which are not on the feed.  So I had to backtrack (the obsession kicks in) and start from the beginning, from the shows on the website.

I like relying on the podcast feed to tell me what I’ve listened to.  None of the podcasting apps track your listening across platforms, so if you are like me and can’t remember if you’ve listened to something just based on the title of the episode, it can become quite tedious downloading, listening and then discarding content because, meh, I’ve heard that before.

So this morning I roll out of bed and decide “enough” of the current book I’m struggling through (The Last Dark, book 10 of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) I think I’m in the mood for something lighter.  What did I listen to last from Radiolab…?   Memory and Forgetting is loaded on the phone. Did I listen to that one? I can’t remember.  So I crank it up. Rats and Spotless Mind; false memories; the muse of a New York painter; the story of Clive Wearing. Listened to the whole thing again.  I have a hard time believing I forgot this episode; Clive Wearing’s experience (like the movie Memento mentioned in this story) is a rather potent nightmare for me.  His repeated statements “It’s like death” ring with a certain terror in my mind.

I have to admit that I was running on hour 20 something with no sleep, and had listened to two other episodes that same day.  I noted the other two episodes (Zoos are depressing, I agreed with Jad. I was struck with the statement “At the beginning of the morning, the things left standing are the things you need to know.” 37 mins in to the episode Sleep) but somehow the last episode got lost in subsequent sleep.  I would go on to mention that the episode Stress reminded me so much of myself and might go a long way to explaining how and why I forgot Memory and Forgetting but I think the rabbit hole is deep enough now.

Welcome to my morning.


Just discovered that the Radiolab feed/website is as freeform as the show is.  There are two different archives for the show; the podcast archive and the radio show archive, some of which overlaps.  Not all of it does.  It’s actually worth the time to go back to the early radio shows in the archive and listen.

Especially shows like Emergence, a subject I will be spending a lot of time talking about in the future.

Revolution Already in Progress; Now Go Vote!

I have a confession to make; several of them actually, and not all of them will occur here.  I used to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out on the forums of Dan Carlin’s website (newly renovated) largely because I tended to agree with his political arguments and loved his history show. Since I first signed on those forums I’ve abandoned them several times because of various hostile posters, only to be drawn back again because of some inane argument presented in of his Common Sense podcasts.

The latest Common Sense (titled Kickstarting the Revolution) is a nice illustration of why I have stopped spending time arguing with devotees of Carlin’s on his website, and why I contemplate abandoning his political podcast altogether.  Starting from the false attribution to Churchill which he repeats and is debunked on Churchill’s website like so;

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” There is no record of anyone hearing Churchill say this. Paul Addison of Edinburgh University makes this comment: “Surely Churchill can’t have used the words attributed to him. He’d been a Conservative at 15 and a Liberal at 35! And would he have talked so disrespectfully of Clemmie, who is generally thought to have been a lifelong Liberal?”

Never mind that I personally can disassemble the assertion by simply observing that I have never been an ideologue, and it is not solely the realm of the young as he insists when he brings up that misquote (ideologues making up the bulk of liberalism in his argument) since there are any number of hidebound hoary old ideologues out there insisting that their ideology must be followed, and that make up the bulk of the Conservative wing of the Republican party. But that’s just where he starts to go off the rails.

I don’t think a lot of you have perhaps considered that we are a month away from the 2016 election kickoff, and I know what you are thinking because I always think the same thing; already?!? Yeah, the midterm elections are a month away. If you’ve got some fancy-schmancy wise interesting outside the box idea for impacting the 2016 Presidential elections for all our good, you need to start it now.

No Dan, that isn’t what I’m thinking. What I’m thinking is that you (and the vast majority of the electorate apparently) are once again mistaking authority for ability.  Attributing to the President more power than he actually has, and holding him accountable for actions beyond the powers of his office (on the one hand) and expecting the next President will be able to exercise powers he doesn’t have in order to fix things which aren’t under his control in the office of President (on the other) What this podcast represents, at the end of another long and winding hour and a half, is one more episode chalked up in support of the dictator theme; the false dream that electing the one right person will fix things, skipping over the very obvious fact that what is important right here and right now is that people go vote in the midterms.

The lackadaisical way that US Americans approach the obligation to participate in government both highlights the need for a requirement that people participate in their government; while at the same time reinforcing the observation that we get the government we deserve.

This reliance on the President, this common belief that this one person can fix the ills of an increasingly complex system inhabited by hundreds of millions of people who are all going about their merry way living their own lives, is the worst kind of naivete.  Couple that with the blind insistence that the calcifying remnants of the two party system are no different from each other, in the face of the popular takeover of the Republican party by the Religious Right in the form of the Tea Party, evidence that the revolution that you agitate for is already occurring, has been occurring since 2008…

…Well, it boggles the mind, the lack of understanding of the system itself that these views now represent.  I’m more than a little mortified.  The reference link for this podcast points toward Lawrence Lessig’s site. I agitated for Dan to interview Prof. Lessig for ages on the show, and now that he’s done that and promotes him, he links the Prof. to the completely dysfunctional idea that 2016 is somehow more important than the day to day operations of party machinery, or the impending disaster that will be handing the Senate over to the hidebound Republicans if only their Ebola-fearing voter base goes out and votes this month.

That isn’t how the world really works. Yes, the individual can matter, does matter.  Yes, authority grants a certain amount of power, but that power is limited by design and by the reality of there only being so much one person can do.

The fallacy here, as I so often come up against, is the externalizing of purpose. The false idea that your purpose in life can be satisfied by some external agent, can be defined by someone else than yourself.  That voting actually does something aside from (as I’ve alluded to many times) seal the deal that you make when you set out to support a candidate or a position and then work to see the goal come to pass.

You have to decide what is important, you have to do the work to see it successful.  You cannot simply go vote and expect others to carry your goals forward with them while you deal with things you deem are more important.  They will do what they think is important.  Either you accept that their goals are at variance with yours, or you don’t and are never (and will never be) satisfied with any outcome no matter how much better it may make your actual conditions in life.

…in that vein, the Democratic party and the Republican party are simply tools to be used, just like any other social structure.  They are no more and no less good or evil (or monolithic) than the individuals who work in those groups to advance the goals they set for themselves.

So go vote this month! But not just vote, go scope out your local party, see how the sausage is made in the hands of the people who currently hold power; and if you want wild ideas about how the internet can fix the problems of aging structures in or government, maybe you should take a look at this;

Pia Mancini and her colleagues want to upgrade democracy in Argentina and beyond. Through their open-source mobile platform they want to bring citizens inside the legislative process, and run candidates who will listen to what they say.

TEDGlobal 2014

If we want to get away from the kind of world that Noam Chomsky outlined in Manufacturing Consentor the kind of world where the wealthy buy the votes of or representatives as described by Professor Lessig in Republic, Lost; How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It then we should listen to people like Pia Mancini, or dedicate ourselves to one of the many groups who are working daily to modify the system so that is is more responsive to the voting population of the US.

The Wolf-pac – We must reverse Citizens United, Restore our Democracy, and Save the Republic. Join the Fight for Free and Fair Elections in America! That has had success in at least one state house.

Move to Amend – which has been trying to get legislation through congress; and not having much luck at it.

Lessig’s own Rootstrikers.org – which is the third iteration of his groups attempts to form a movement behind the ideas he has put forward again and again.

Or maybe even a group like Represent.us that is facing pushback on the local level in Tallahassee right now while trying to make inroads on the problem of corruption in or governments.

Governments.  Plural.  More than one.  Local, County, State & Federal; not just the President. So go vote, because that’s all that is left to do right now with one short month left in this election cycle.  But don’t allow yourself to sit back after voting and expect the problems to be solved, or (even worse) wait for a President to be elected who will fix the problems we face, that will do so in a way that you approve of (which is a pipe dream) go out and change the system by participating in it.  At least then you will have earned the right to bitch about how things turned out, rather than just pretending you have that right because you have a right to free speech.

Propaganda, Spin & Shooting Down Civilian Aircraft

I posted a link to a segment from the Rachel Maddow show on Facebook a few days back.

RACHEL MADDOW – Plane crash followed NATO alert on rebel capability – July 18, 2014

Rachel Maddow whittles away the unsubstantiated reports in the Malaysia Airlines plane crash investigation and points out that NATO warned the world on June 30th that Russia was training Ukrainian separatists on vehicle-borne anti-aircraft capability.

I’ve spent a good portion of today writing responses to accusations that the segment is biased and not based on facts.

I get it, it’s popular these days to insist that television news is biased.  If it isn’t FOX news’ conservatives incessantly whining about liberal bias (liberal meaning “anything not Conservative” i.e. mindlessly jingoist with a heavy helping of Jesus on top) it’s the blatant bias of FOX news itself making up stories that they think their viewers will ascribe to (#Benghazi, anyone?) as detailed on any number of channels including MSNBC which the clip above comes from.

The “why” of the location of the plane, it’s status right before it fell out of the sky, will only be answered by the fight recorders if they are ever found. Flight recorders that the separatists claim to have already found.

 Conspiracies are already spinning on the subject.  Ukraine shot the plane down. Ukraine thought they were targeting Vladimir Putin’s plane (the story from Russian news sources that Rachel Maddow relates) the plane was loaded with corpses and crashed on purpose to frame the Russians.  I’m sure there will be more.

Ukraine hasn’t been shooting down planes in the area; Ukraine would have known (since they control their own airspace) that the plane was a commercial airliner. The separatists have been, and shot down a plane at the same altitude and similar heading earlier in the week (not to be confused with a shootdown from more than a decade ago)  So they clearly had the capability to do it again, and the motivation to continue hampering Ukrainian efforts to put down the separatists.

The separatists exist largely because Russia funds them. There is a conspiracy theory (which theorists like Dan Carlin deny is one) that suggests that the unrest in the Ukraine is due to US intervention in the region, that we’re trying to pull the former soviet state into the NATO alliance. That that is why Russia acted to claim the Crimea through the use of the separatists.

The truth is that Kiev wants to get closer to the EU, to be considered part of the EU rather than a satellite of Russia. If I understand the political structure of the country, the governors of the various regions are appointed not elected. That has lead to unrest in the outlier areas away from Kiev and its direct control, parts of the country that want to elect their own leaders directly. There is also a history of distrust between the Eastern and Western sections of what we call ‘Ukraine’ today (bad blood from WWII during the occupation by Germany) That is why the separatists accuse the government of Kiev of being under the influence of fascists.

Russia would of course like its territory back. Kiev has been historically in and out of Russian control for centuries, and was actually the first city to be called Russia (Kievan Rus) and would probably be the capital of the country of Russia if the Mongols hadn’t taken it and occupied it. But none of this means that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin should be handed the keys to Kiev just because he wants it under his control.

Putin and Russia are as accountable for MH17 deaths as the US is for funding and equipping terrorists in other regions; as in, completely accountable if you are living anywhere outside of Russia or the US. As the saying goes “live by the sword, die by the sword.” The trick is to not be the one living by the sword. Vladimir Putin is the last of the KGB. When he dies, that era dies with him. If we can just stop funding the MIC in the US, the other half of the equation will also close.

It really isn’t propaganda or fallacy to say Russia is to blame for downing the plane. The separatists exist as a military force because Russia has encouraged them. Whether the equipment came from Russia recently, or was soviet equipment left in Ukraine at the end of the USSR, it exists because of Russian expansionism and empire that goes back centuries in time.

Putting the shoe on the other foot (to turn another phrase) I saw the same kinds of denial surrounding the downing of Iran Air Flight 655, the Iranian commercial airliner destroyed during the Iran/Iraq war, a conflict we heavily funded and supported. Everything from the excuse that Reagan gave and the US government still sticks to (an accident) all the way to full blown conspiratory “plane full of corpses flown at the Vincennes on purpose” insanity.

But we shot that plane down in cold blood and killed all those people because we were there and ready to kill. The same is true for the groups fighting in Ukraine right now, and the group in question gets its backing from Russia and is equipped with weapons made in Russia. They are the ones ready to kill. They get the blame. As much of the blame as the US got for that downing of an Iranian airliner.

Does that mean war?  No. Not even vaguely (I’m sure John McCain is already strapping on his sword, if he ever takes it off anymore) that does mean that Russia and their proxy separatists should answer in international court and pay restitution at the very least. If someone can be found that actually gave the order to shoot that plane down, that person should be put on trial.  But I think we’ve had enough killing in the world of late.  How about we not call for more, just right now?

DCBBS Archive: $8.5 Trillion

My apologies if this was posted previously. I find it unfathomable that this hasn’t been trumpeted across the universe as government waste that we have to address right now. But no, it’s all food stamps and lazy poor people.

Special Enterprise Reporter Scot Paltrow unearthed the “high cost of the Pentagon’s bad bookkeeping” in a Reuters investigation. It amounts to $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for. (The year 1996 was the first that the Pentagon should have been audited under a law requiring audits of all government departments. Oh, and by the way, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with this law.)

Yahoo News

Posted to DCBBS. Want to Cut Government Waste? Find the $8.5 Trillion

Father, Freethinker, Objectivist-Humanist

I used my post on Why I am a Libertarian as an example of how I would describe myself for many years. A decade and more of time has passed, and when I look back on this with an eye for continuity and history, I find my previous blind reliance on libertarian principles to be quite humorous.

I have never been an anarchist; in fact, anarchists are some of the people I disagree with the most. If I could point to a single reason why I almost never identify as libertarian any longer, it’s because libertarianism (especially on the web) is default anarchism. You have to struggle to get the average libertarian to admit that structure is required in society. That you need organization to build roads, do science, construct complex machinery. In fact, there is so much knowledge involved in a single field of expertise these days that it’s almost hard to find generalists with enough depth of knowledge to bridge the gap between specialists.

So this idea of the rugged individualist doing all for himself, with no one to thank for what he has other than himself is complete self-delusional bullshit.

From the hospital where most of us are born to the school paid for with tax dollars, from the roads we travel on during our working years to the social security system most of us will rely on in old age, almost nothing we experience occurs because we were the sole architect of its existence. Much less would we want to own any of the convoluted bullshit we have to deal with systems invented by madmen and executed by sadists? Better to be leaves floating on an irresistible wind than acknowledge that any of this is what we would have wanted, planned for, inflicted on others.

I played a mental game with myself for quite a long time. I still find it amusing on occasion, especially when opponents in argument will trot out the ad hominem, try to affix labels to me and my arguments in order to dismiss them. Flip the script is how you might describe it these days. How would you define yourself in as few words as possible, using only labels that others might use to discard you and your arguments. Epithets or titles applied to you by others to summarize and pigeonhole you or your views.

I could to get it down to three; Objectivist, Architect, Father (no longer licensed, so can’t call myself architect anymore. Libertarian was in second place at one point) These days the three would be more like Father, Skeptic, Objectivist; and Objectivist is left on the end simply because I still believe we can obtain glimpses of objectivity, not because I buy in to the whacky psychological ideals of Ayn Rand. That we have to be able to discern objective reality in some limited fashion unless everything we sense is complete illusion, which demonstrably is not the case. Most Objectivists these days make me cringe when they speak.

I daresay today’s Objectivists would make Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum cringe as well; but then I’m not her, was never a member of her cult of personality, don’t believe in revealed knowledge in even the vaguest sense. What I do know is that the system she describes as ideal doesn’t even resemble the current political, ideological or economic system; and the economic and political actors of today are more akin to the looters of her novels than her contemporaries in 1950 America could have been. That current self-identified objectivists laud the behavior and thinking of these people simply puts the lie to their claim of objectivity.

Consequently, when self-styled Objectivists start mouthing anarchist phrases while representing the Republican party, I almost disown the objectivist label, too. Who knows, maybe that one goes next. Would Ayn Rand have modified her ideals given the advances in knowledge about the workings of the mind and the social patterns of the human animal? I’d like to think she would have admitted fault at some point, but then that wouldn’t have been very Ayn Rand of her.


This introspection was brought on by a challenge from a fellow member of the now-defunct Dan Carlin BBS forums. Gone are all the threads and thoughts recorded on those boards, unless they are preserved somewhere on Dan’s private servers or happened to be picked up by the Wayback Machine, if even the Wayback Machine itself continues to function. 

I get no satisfaction from the knowledge that I predicted the demise of the boards years before they were taken offline by Dan Carlin, but I knew that his hands-off approach to freedom of speech, his belief in the innate goodness of people, was a recipe for disaster. That the disaster did occur was in spite of my best efforts, for years, before finally giving up. Trolls will continue to troll until barred from trolling, and it takes a judicious use of the ban-hammer to make people respect you enough to be forthright in their posting habits. If you are anonymous and without rules, driving people away with harassment is simpler than trying to reason with them. The time spent is the only cost of such behavior, and that is essentially free if you have free time to spend. Some of us have far too much time. 

But the challenge had been to be as self-reflective as you could and be open about things you might have learned since joining the forums. I believe it was cast against the more recent findings that people did not change with argument (more recent than the establishment of the forum) and the member who issued that challenge was de officiis I think. They were just another stranger on the internet, but someone who had reliably challenged me with heartfelt interrogation, always offering comments that I felt were honest. So I accepted the challenge in the fashion offered. These were my most honest thoughts of the time. They still hold some power over me.


Since writing the above, I tried out the word ‘Skeptic’ as defining me, and I find it too skeptical.  The daughter thinks Freethinker is too pretentious, but then I think pretentious defines my assessment of the importance of my thinking quite well.  So I’m going with the pretentious sounding ‘freethinker’ rather than the piss on your parade personal interpretation I get from the word skeptic (Yes, skeptics, I know that isn’t how you see the word) I would say that I approach all subjects with a healthy dose of skepticism, but I don’t enjoy the process very much.  I do love finding truths, but telling others what the truth actually *is* is a very tricky process.  A process I find I don’t do very well.

Consequently, I also feel the need to temper Objectivism with Humanism.  Objectivists will say this means I’m not really an objectivist; something else I find funny since most of them don’t see the problem with being religious and claiming Objectivism as a philosophy.  Human is the lens that modifies the world we see, and Humanism is the attempt to make our systems more humane.  I’ll take that.

Dan Carlin BBS forum post duplicated on the blog.


Die Gedanken Sind Frei!

Die Gedanken Sind Frei by Dan Barker and Kristen Lems

What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought he finds a balance of evidence in their favor, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.

Bertrand Russell
Pete Seeger- Die Gedanken Sind Frei from the album Dangerous Songs!?

Much Ado About NSA

Dan Carlin chose to make his latest Common Sense episode all about the historic outrage that is the NSA spying on us, likening it to the kind of outrage that Lawrence O’Donnell pokes holes in during the attached video segment.

Approaching this idea from the perspective of ‘Vampiric Memories’ (memories of several centuries) as Dan does, what would be most striking was not that governments do what governments have always done; but that the people who run this government are more varied in race and sex than at any time previously in history.

Now, this observation can lead to other insights such as how white men aren’t nearly as bad as we’ve been lead to believe since we don’t run everything anymore and it all still sucks, or that inclusiveness in government hasn’t gone far enough because the suckage of government hasn’t been alleviated yet.

But what you cannot say is that this is an outrage as has never been seen before, and it’s only our relative blindness to change (for various reasons) that allow this outrage to continue.  Should the NSA programs be brought down?  Certainly, and it appears that they will be.  But can we tone down the histrionics, please?


Edited to add the following;

Seriously Dan?  Another podcast on the same subject? Only this time to attack the false premise that NSA spying isn’t a big deal?  I’ve been trying to tell people that privacy was dead for a decade or more.  I use my real name on the internet and yell from the rooftops repeatedly that there is no such thing on the internet as privacy, precisely because I suspected the NSA was doing exactly what it’s been shown to be doing over the last year.

Just because I’m ready for a new subject to discuss, has nothing at all to do with the assumed importance of the NSA spying problem.  The real problem is, most people who object to the spying aren’t willing to fight the hard fight it’s going to take to get the laws changed to forbid the government from engaging in this kind of data collection; largely because most of them think like you and don’t want to dirty themselves by getting into political fights, joining parties, and changing the system.

When you’re ready to seriously get involved, let me know.  I have some pointers on that score.