Sunday, June 28, 2009

A racist fucktard in a burqa

Heather claims that A burqa ban is a symptom of racism, not secularism, nor feminism. She's completely full of shit.

She's presuming that the burqa itself has absolutely no direct material effect on women's well-being. This is obviously false. Anonymizing and desexualizing women has a direct negative effect on their well-being. Second Heather ignores the effect of non-governmental coercion: she assumes that when there's no governmental coercion on some category behavior, we can therefore conclude that any behavior in that category is an individual's uncoerced choice. This is again false. Third, she assumes that if racists affirm some statement, then affirming that statement marks one as a racist. This is a logical fallacy.

Indeed, by believing that not-quite-fully-human brown women would "voluntarily" anonymize and desexualize themselves, an action that fully-human white women would consider profoundly oppressive and fundamentally objectionable, Heather reveals her own racism.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Canceling Skype

Trying to cancel my Skype accounts, I received this email:
Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

We understand from your recent request that, sadly, you would like to have your Skype account deleted. Due to the ever increasing rise of online fraud and Skype's desire to keep each and everyone of its customers' online ID's secure, we must verify each user's identity before we can proceed with any account deletion requests.

Please choose your payment method from the options below and follow the instructions then send us the data you have gathered by replying to this email.

General (applies to all account deletion requests):

1. Approximate date of the last purchase made to your Skype account (you can find this information from your credit card statement or from the confirmation email sent to you after the purchase).
2. The order number
3. Payment method or Credit Card type used to make a purchase
4. Email that was entered during registration (if any)

Additional information required:

Purchases by Credit Card:

4. The first 4 and last 4 numbers of the credit card used
6. Name on the credit card

Purchases by PayPal or Moneybookers:

5. Your registered PayPal/Moneybookers email address
6. PayPal/Moneybookers Transaction ID

We are very sorry you no longer wish to use Skype to communicate with the world. If at any time you change your mind and you would like to avail yourself of Skype's convenience and economy once again, you can register a new Skype ID at any time at

Thank you for trying our products and we hope to see you back using Skype again soon.
What fucking bullshit.

Legal to lie

Fox News wins a legal right to lie:
On February 14, a Florida Appeals court ruled there is absolutely nothing illegal about lying, concealing or distorting information by a major press organization. The court reversed the $425,000 jury verdict in favor of journalist Jane Akre who charged she was pressured by Fox Television management and lawyers to air what she knew and documented to be false information. The ruling basically declares it is technically not against any law, rule, or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast. ...

The attorneys for Fox, owned by media baron Rupert Murdock, argued the First Amendment gives broadcasters the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves.

Communist printer
linkraceist: my printer is being rather communist atm
necrokiss: lol, how so?
linkraceist: in theory, there is nothing wrong with it
linkraceist: but when i try to use it, everything goes wrong

The marginal theory of price

First, I'm going to make a radical departure from canonical economic theory, and unambiguously denote the three components of economic analysis as cost, value and price. I've concluded that using value to represent exchange value, i.e. price, is not just misleading but intentionally misleading. Instead, I'm going to consistently use price to represent exchange value, and value to represent use value.

The marginal theory of price says first that the price (exchange value) of an item is most strongly related to its value (use value). In other words, when two people exchange commodities, what is equivalent about the exchange is generally the increase (margin) in each party's respective value. If a hamburger adds ten "units of happiness" to my life, and a hammer adds ten units of happiness to your life, (and losing the hammer and hamburger subtracts one unit of happiness from each of our lives), I'll give you a hammer in exchange for a hamburger. Alternatively, if we say that a dollar arbitrarily represents one unit of happiness, I'll pay ten dollars for a hamburger if and only if it adds ten units of happiness to my life.

There are difficulties actually making consistent and comparable measurements of "units of happiness", but the concept has intuitive appeal. We can introspectively determine that possessing and consuming a hamburger gives us more happiness than possessing and (somehow) consuming a turd. We can attach a number to anything that can be ranked, so we're in reasonably good shape... at least so far.

The marginal theory of price assumes that value can be ranked: Suppose there are 100 people, and they want widgets. Alice wants a widget most, Bob wants one second most, ... Zelda wants one the least. (If any person wants two widgets, we'll just add how much they want the second widget to the ranking with no loss of generality.) We'll assume we can not only rank their desires, but we can (roughly) quantify them: Alice is willing to work for 42 hours in exchange for a widget; Bob is willing to work 38 hours; ... Martin is willing to work 21 hours; ... Zelda is willing to work 2 hours.

If we order the people by rank, we have by definition a monotonically decreasing value function: The total extra social use value added by supplying one more widget decreases as we add widgets. Supplying one widget gives us 42 hours of use value, supplying the second gives us an additional 38 hours, etc.

There are two forms of the marginal theory of price. The first assumes diminishing returns on cost: the more widgets we make, the higher the cost of the additional widgets. We can see this if we rank the producers of widgets in order of efficiency: Andrew, the most efficient producer, makes a widget in 6 hours; Betty in 6.2 hours hours, ... Mary in 9.3 hours; ... Zachary in 12.7 hours. Again, we rank them, this time from shortest time to longest time, creating a monotonically increasing function.

It's a theorem of mathematics that a function that is monotonically decreasing will intersect a function that is monotonically increasing at at most one point. (We'll assume that our value function and our cost function do indeed intersect in the effective domain of 0-100 widgets.) We can simplify our analysis by assuming our value and cost functions are linear. (There are other simplifying assumptions that don't affect generality; we have to preserve only monotonicity and opposite slope.) The price of a widget, then, will be the point at which the demand and supply functions intersect.

Therefore, assuming that the demand function by rank for widgets is H = -0.75R + 100 and the cost function is C = 0.45R + 16, price will be H(R) = C(R); -0.75R + 100 = 0.45R + 16; P = H(70) = C(70) = 47.5 hours.

However, this analysis trivially agrees with the labor theory of price! If the socially necessary cost (which can be any rigorously defined statistic of actual cost) is defined to be the maximum cost to create a widget to fulfill demand, and it's worth it for the the 70th ranked producer to take an actual 47.5 hours to create a widget, then the socially necessary cost to create a widget is 47.5 hours, therefore the price of a widget is the socially necessary cost in labor time.

To get a marginal theory of price that differs from the labor theory of price, we have to look not at the cost of production, but the choice of what to produce.

Assume we can produce 100 widgets, 100 doodad, or any combination of 100 widgets and doodads; i.e. for every widget we produce, we're not producing a doodad, and vice versa. More importantly, when we produce a widget for the person who wants one most, we are "taking away" a doodad from the person who wants one least (and vice versa). So we'll rank the demand function for doodads from low to high to make it monotonically increasing. The point where the functions intersect is the price of widgets and doodads.

For example, if Hw = -0.75R + 100 and H-1d = 0.45R + 16*, then the price of widgets and doodads will be 47.5 hours. We have calculated an equilibrium price without reference to how many hours it costs to produce either a widget or a doodad, thus falsifying the the labor theory of price, right?

*Yes, I just recycled the parameters of the cost equation to avoid having to do more algebra.

Wrong. Consider the assumption: "We can produce 100 widgets, 100 doodad, or any combination of 100 widgets and doodads; i.e. for every widget we produce, we're not producing a doodad, and vice versa." This assumption entails that it takes approximately the same amount of time to produce a widget and a doodad. The labor theory of price entails that things that take the same amount of time to produce will trade at an equivalent price, precisely what we have determined the marginal theory of price entails. If a widget takes approximately 1.5 times as long to produce as a doodad, then the marginal theory of price will find a price for widgets that's 1.5 times the price of a doodad, again, exactly what's predicted by the labor theory of price.

Furthermore, I slipped in a subtle equivocation when talking about the diminishing returns form of the marginal theory of price: I had some people consuming widgets (Alice, Bob, etc.) and different people producing widgets (Andrew, Betty, etc.). But this is not the case: Alice, Bob, etc. are producing and consuming widgets and doodads: essentially, each person makes a widget and a doodad, and either keeps it for him- or herself or trades it one for one for the other item. The "price" of 47.5 doesn't mean anything, since the price of widgets and doodads is the same, therefore they trade one for one.

Thus, the marginal theory of price does not differ theoretically from the labor theory of price: it does not make contradictory predictions. The marginal theory of price tells us how much of a commodity will be produced and consumed to achieve the labor theory of price.

Friday, June 26, 2009


It's true that science and religion are inconsistent and incompatible.

It's also true that there are no small few people, such as Francis Collins, Ken Miller, and Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, who are respected scientists and devoutly religious.

The conclusion: people can hold inconsistent and incompatible beliefs.

Shocking news, innit?

Why We're Here

Why We're Here: Jack Chick meets H. P. Lovecraft

[h/t to the good Dr. Myers]

Two by Krugman

Sex and the married politician
Equal representation in Congress

For a capitalist, he's not half bad.


I hear some famous people died recently. Wow. Shocking.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shut up, fucktard

Fucktard Chris Mooney is shocked at the rank hypocrisy of the atheist blogosphere. Why? Because Chris Hallquist tells him to "shut up", and the rest of us don't pile on to reprimand this egregious violation of free speech. Mooney quotes Hallquist*,
It Mooney can´t get his facts straight about something so simple, it´s time to ignore him. For my own future reference, though, and that of anyone who´s morbidly curious about this mini-fiasco, Jerry Coyne has a nice compilation of relevant posts, which he seems to be continuously updating. Though it doesn´s include this most lovely-titled of posts. Notice how Mooney has nothing of substance to say in reply, saying only that the debate is a waste of time–in which case, why doesn´t he shut up? [links omitted]
saying without a trace of irony, "I trust there will be round denunciation of this behavior?"

*Yes, I checked the quotation to make sure it was accurate. If Mooney said the sky was blue, I'd look out my window to check.

A person with two functioning brain cells can figure this out, but I'll spell it out in case Mooney somehow manages to stumble on this post. He still won't get it — if Mooney were any stupider, we'd have to water him — but it's not fair to condemn him for failing to understand a subtle point.

Hallquist is not actually telling Mooney to shut up. He's asking a rhetorical question: Why is Mooney speaking out in a debate he considers a waste of time? The implication is that because Mooney is speaking, he doesn't actually believe the debate to be a waste of time. Mooney, on the other hand, has built his career on trying to make an actual philosophical case that anti-religious, anti-accommodationist atheists really should shut up. And not because their position is mistaken, but precisely because their position is correct.

Hallquist is a fairly minor blogger (not a slam; I'm a minor blogger myself). For some unfathomable reason (Midnight sacrifices to Nyarlahotep? Daily oral sex for the Discover Magazine editorial staff? A rent in the space-time continuum?) Mooney is a player in this debate; players should have better things to do than take offense from the peanut gallery.

Accusations of hypocrisy have a way of rebounding on the accuser. Even if Hallquist really were telling Mooney to shut up, why should Mooney take offense? Mooney is all about the shut up. It would be hypocritical, for example, for Fred Phelps to show kindness and tolerance to George Takai, but I certainly would not be incensed that Phelps showed kindness, nor would I condemn him for doing something I would approve of.

Fourth, and most importantly, Mooney takes offense at a turn of phrase to simply duck and ignore Hallquist's substantive criticism, that Mooney is actually lying. Well, Mooney, are you a liar?

[Note that the title of this post is a sarcastic joke. Mooney should say what he thinks, and so should I, and I think Mooney is indeed a whiny fucktard whose head is so far up his ass he needs a glass navel to watch television.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fareed Zakaria’s Manifesto

Matt Taibbi explains Fareed Zakaria’s Manifesto:
  1. Gosh it sucks that the crisis happened, but it’s not as bad as people say. Remember how people used to pick on Internet stocks — well, look at Twitter!
  2. The solution to what ails capitalism is more capitalism.
  3. There will be a great public desire to tighten up the laws governing the economic sector, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
  4. You know what’s a great idea? Voluntary self-regulation.
  5. You can make all sorts of interesting collages just using a bunch of dollar bills and a Photoshop program.
  6. If we could just all learn to be better people, everything will turn out fine.

Obama messes up on health care, big time

Obama messes up on health care, big time:
What was the point of signaling, right at this crucial moment, that he’s willing to give away the public plan? Let alone doing it at the very moment that he was making such a good case for it?
Maybe because Obama's corporate masters don't want him to enact a public plan, nor do they even want him to use the idea as leverage. I'm just saying.

The Falsifiability of the Labor Theory of Value

I'm reading Studies in Mutualist Political Economy by Kevin A. Carson, recently presented by db0. I'm about 10% of the way through (p 75 of 822). The author is kind of long-winded and drops a lot of names without reproducing or even summarizing arguments, but there's some good stuff there.

The first part of the book is a defense of the labor theory of (exchange) value: First, that labor creates economic value, and second, that the exchange value of a commodity is the amount of socially necessary labor time to create that commodity. This theory stands in opposition to the subjective theory of value, that the exchange value of a commodity is determined by subjective use-value, and the scarcity theory of value, that the exchange value of a commodity is determined by the scarcity of its supply relative to the demand. There's also the marginal theory of value, but that's a topic for another post.

The subjective theory of value seems hard to make falsifiable: how do you quantify the subjective perception of value independently of the actual exchange price. The scarcity theory applies even in theory only when supply is inelastic, but it's fairly obvious that the production of most commodities — food, oil automobiles, DVD players, computers, buildings, etc — is elastic; the most significant inelastic item of value is real estate.

However, Carson makes an enormous philosophical error:
As Mises wrote, the variables of the market are so many that no laws can be induced from mere observation, without the aid of valid starting assumptions established on an a priori basis. ...

If an adequate theory of value requires a high degree of predictive value concerning concrete prices, then both the labor theory and subjective theory fall apart equally. On the other hand, if value theory in the sense of an empirical rule for predicting concrete prices is impossible because the variables are too many, then both theories are likewise on equally untenable ground. But like Mises' subjective theory of value, our version of the labor theory is a set of a priori axioms and the deductions from them, which can be used to more usefully interpret market data
after the fact. [emphasis original] [pp. 75-76]
It's just bullshit to be concerned with the after-the-fact interpretive value of a theory.

It is a fallacy of naive empiricism that one must "induce" laws from mere observation. All scientific laws are not a priori assumptions, but hypotheses from which we derive empirical predictions; if the predictions match the observations, the theory is supported; if not, it must be somehow revised. Empirical observation is the context of justification, not the context of discovery.

The Labor Theory of Value makes several empirical predictions about concrete prices. Most importantly, there should be a substantial correlation between measurable socially necessary labor time and actual prices in any economy. Furthermore the correlation should become when we control for independently determinable variables representing externalities, such as physical and socially constructed inelasticity. (We could also independently determine differences in external variables when two unrelated commodities had similar labor times but very different prices, or similar prices but different labor times.)

The Labor Theory of Value makes dynamic predictions. Assuming we were to find a correlation between labor time and price, we can then determine a general average correlation over many unrelated commodities. The Labor Theory of Value predicts the supply of commodities that had a price/time ratio lower than average would fall over time, and the price/time ratio would increase; likewise the supply of commodities that had a price/time ratio lower than the general average would rise over time, and the price/time ratio decrease.

Scientists and statisticians — especially biologists and ecologists — have figured out a lot of ways to test hypotheses under conditions with a lot of interacting variables. There's simply no reason not to apply these tools and techniques to the Labor Theory of Value.

Carson does note the Positivist fallacy of the Austrian school of economics:
The Austrians have made a closely related argument: that equilibrium price is an imaginary construct that can never be observed in the real marketplace. [p. 76]
We don't need to directly observe anything for it to have scientific validity: it just has to be an ineluctable component of a theory that overall matches what we can directly observe. Furthermore, we can actually observe some sort of equilibrium: all similar DVD players, tomatoes, automobiles, etc. all cost about the same from store to store and from day to day, even though there is (usually) no collusion or intentionality to keep prices stabile.

The public option

Robert Reich (Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor) gives us a bunch of good reasons to keep the public option part of health care reform. (You should read his blog to monitor both the sensibility and the ineffectuality of reformist capitalism.)

It's clearly in the interests of the people to have a public option. However it's not in the interests of the American Medical Association (i.e. physicians), Big Pharma, and the biggest insurance companies. Shocking news, I know.

It's in the interests of physicians to have tens of millions of working people locked out of health care. Without a public option health insurance will simply be too expensive for these people; any "mandates" that everyone must buy health insurance (similar to auto insurance mandates) will get watered down or ignored completely. A guy making $7.25/hour is not going to drop two weeks' pay on a monthly health insurance premium, whether he "has to" or not. A subsidized public option will put pressure the health care industry to lower costs and lower profits.

Theoretically, under capitalism, you would expect tens of millions of people who want health care and are willing and able to pay for it to constitute an untapped market: demand creates supply. Imperialist capitalism (the dominance of financial and monopoly capitalists) however, is as much or more against actual free market economics as the most doctrinaire Marxist. Truly free market economics brings the exchange value of every commodity, including health care, into equilibrium with its true cost, either by lowering the exchange value to the cost, or by raising the cost to the exchange value.

A truly free market is not in the interest of any owner of capital, except insofar as he wants his competitors subject to free markets. But when capitalists of some industry do not face competition, they have zero interest in free markets. Interests always trump "principles".

If some commodity is relatively scarce, i.e. demand exceeds supply, then the supplier can demand a price (exchange value) much higher than the cost, generating profits. Under free market economics, this gives other people an incentive to allocate more capital and labor to supplying that commodity, either lowering its price or raising its cost, thus reducing profits.

However, if a capitalist can somehow maintain the relative scarcity, by externally restricting the supply, then higher prices and higher profits can be maintained indefinitely. Relative scarcity, though, never distributes the scarcity evenly; instead, some people get a lot and others get nothing. If health care were distributed to everyone, then the price of health care would fall to what the poorest people were willing to pay (or what the people were willing to pay in taxes to provide the poorest with health care). There would no longer be a scarcity to prop up higher prices and higher profits. The capitalists who own the government will make damn sure this scarcity remains. They are no longer naive, as they were when Lyndon Johnson created Medicare — they know they can just buy more congressmen and senators, and the profits are so huge that money is no object — and they are facing no threat of revolution or severe civil unrest.

One ironic thing about the health care debate is that ordinary physicians themselves are participating in maintaining scarcity to prop up their own individual profits. But what they do not realize is that they work for a living (technically physicians are petty capitalists, since they necessarily own their own training, but petty capitalists face the same pressures as ordinary workers, and end up in the same place), and they require enormous amounts of external capital to work: not just their own training, but the equipment they use directly, drug development and manufacturing, and medical technology in general. As the computer programmers have discovered, the owners of the financial capital underlying all of this investment will eventually appropriate the physicians' surplus labor, either directly by lowering their pay or indirectly by raising the cost of education, insurance premiums, use of medical equipment, etc. They may be the last to go, but they will go: medicine isn't that difficult, and there are enough people desperate for even the lowest rung in the professional middle class to do the work for the lowest prices.

We will not see anything resembling universal health care from the Obama administration. We will see at best only a few token reforms. And when the next Republican administration and congress is elected, the physicians will be the next to get the shaft. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Florien Finds a Fucktard

Daniel Florien of Unreasonable Faith presents bwinwright's fucktardery on Allvoices:
[A]theism is a false idea because it is based on the false premise that orderliness does not require intelligent direction.
His proof?
I ask them to give me a single example of anything, outside of what they call nature, that came into being without intelligent direction. Of course, they can not. Everything manufactured by man required intelligent direction, right?
It's not all bad, though. "[D]ueling with atheists has made me a more patient, accepting, and loving person." 'Tis a pity it didn't make him any smarter.

Because it works

Why does the Republican party seem completely unable to say anything except trivially obvious lies and bullshit?

Because it works.

No one with any political or economic power has any interest whatsoever in telling the actual truth; there are only differences of opinion between capitalist factions about what sort of lies to tell. The Democrats tell "it's all going to turn out right in the end" sort of lies; the Republicans tell "you're all fucked, might as well lie back and enjoy it" sort of lies.

The truth has ceased to matter, and nobody, neither the powers-that-be nor the people, gives a rats ass about what Ophelia and Jeremy think.

The current depression

It's important to understand the underlying causes of the current depression.

First of all, we are not in a depression because we lack labor, raw materials, arable land, factories, technology, or any of the physical, material components of wealth. We have not lost a large chunk of our productive capacity due to natural or man-made disaster. (Capitalism is by-and-large resistant to such disasters.)

Industrial capitalism is about the (private, individual) ownership of the means of production, i.e. factories, farmland, tools, technology. Finance capitalism he ownership of specifically money, "real" money such as gold* or fiat, socially-constructed money such as dollars. Industrial capitalism regulates the usage of labor; finance capitalism regulates the usage of industrial capital. Our modern, complex economy does need intentional regulation of industrial capital.

*Capitalists around the world dropped the gold standard after the Great Depression because it is ineffective at regulating finance capital, and hinders governments' ability to dig themselves out of financial crises that the gold standard failed to prevent.

For several decades following the Great Depression, finance capital was heavily regulated by the Federal Government; banks were only nominally private. Since Reagan, finance capital has become increasingly deregulated, allowing the owners of money to make their own individual interest predominate over social, collective interests.

The fundamental function of finance capital is not to allocate but to create new money by making loans. As the economy grows, as more and more surplus labor is "congealed" into physical wealth, we have to create new money to represent that wealth. This creation is necessarily a social, collective endeavor. When finance capital is unregulated, the individual owners of money have incentive to create new money not to represent new wealth, but for their own personal consumption and control over existing wealth.

And that's precisely what happened: We gave individuals and individual companies the unregulated power to create money. And they created money by a variety of means precisely to enrich themselves and enhance their own power.

It was a classic Prisoner's dilemma situation. Of course every unregulated "shadow" bank knew it was creating money out of nothing, not at all correlated to new physical wealth. But if any bank refused to create new money, out of (snicker) principle, they would find that the bank down the street had created enough money to buy them out or drive them out of business. Restraint and "principle" works only if the principle is enforced.

(The Republican party also discovered that it need not keep the economy of ordinary people strong in order to gain votes; they focused on "values", mostly religious, and just blamed all the economic problems on socialists, democrats, immigrants, atheists, hippies and black people. Given that they owned most of the media, it's unsurprising this line of bullshit worked. The Democratic party saw which way the wind was blowing and rebranded themselves as the no-responsibility permanent opposition party and the party of slightly more palatable bullshit. Remember, it was Bill "I feel your pain" Clinton who signed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.)

So what the unregulated finance capitalists did was simply this: create a lot of new money with no referent to physical reality. Since this money creation has to happen exponentially, we quickly reached a point where the lack of physical referent could no longer be ignored or bullshitted around. Then they claimed that unless the government supplied the referent, in terms of taxes on future labor, the capitalist system would fall. And that's precisely what the Obama administration has done.

I don't have a Nobel prize in economics, but (given dictatorial powers) I could have solved this financial crisis in 90 days, even staying within a purely capitalist perspective:
  1. Let all the bankrupt banks and hedge-funds fail, and jail all the executives who committed actual fraud
  2. As a temporary measure, make obviously safe short-term loans (e.g. to shipping companies) directly by the government.
  3. Refinance everyone's mortgage without penalty to reflect the true value of their homes.
  4. Reimpose all the financial regulations destroyed in the last 30-40 years.
  5. Make the SEC ten times bigger and have them actually regulate the banks.
  6. Make a few hundred billion — perhaps a trillion — dollars worth of deficit-funded loans to the smaller sound banks, who would be regulated and create new money to fund the production of more actual wealth, not just enrich themselves.
Note that under the current plan, we will end up supplying not just a few hundred billion or a trillion dollars (multiplied by the banks to about 1 to 3 trillion), but ten trillion dollars, i.e. about 6-8 years of the total annual productivity of the United States. And this money is being supplied not to create new wealth or new productivity, but rather to supply a physical referent (our own labor) to give meaning to the money the individual finance capitalists created for themselves out of greed and lust for power.

They key, though, is that finance capital is the capitalist social regulatory mechanism. If it is in the hands of individuals, they will "regulate" the economy for only their own benefit, to the detriment of everyone else. It's not just that people don't follow principles just because they're good principles, it's that in a competitive environment, compromising your own interests out of principle makes you vulnerable to those who don't compromise their own interests: winning is relative.

Because the finance capitalists have an enormous amount of short-term socially-constructed power, they control the government, who controls the laws and the taxes. That's why I would have to be given "dictatorial" powers to fix the financial crisis, to insulate myself from ability of the finance capitalists to control the government. Otherwise, the congressmen and senators they own body and soul would just vote down my proposals. Obama is owned body and soul by the finance capitalists, but even if he weren't, he's functioning in a system that is owned body and soul by the finance capitalists, and they will make damn sure that anyone who doesn't fulfill their interests, their demands, is marginalized and excluded.

We cannot reform the capitalist political system: if we could, we would have. But everywhere, even in Europe, the power of the finance capitalists is growing. Only an actual revolution can break the power of capitalism.

The Tao of Skepticism

Saint Gasoline proposes The Tao of Skepticism:
I propose that skeptics should borrow the tactics of the believers, performing a sort of mental judo throw and using the weight of the believers against themselves. After all, for every yin, there is a yang; for every summer, there is a winter; and for every nut, there is a nutcracker. Sometimes what is dark leads us to light, and sometimes what is wrong can be right, and sometimes the long-winded and rambling can seem poetic. There is a time for killing and a time for healing, and a time for skepticism and a time for being credulous fucktards. As such, we must embrace what I call the Tao of Skepticism, realizing that we must reign in our passion for critical thinking and occasionally act like raging fucktards to win over the masses to our side.

Accommodationist fucktardery

Condescending fucktard Santi Tafarella doesn't think religious people can handle the truth:
Atheist and agnostic evangelism can be Diet Coke misleading if we pretend that atheism and agnosticism aren’t real divorces from vital sources of hope in human beings. You’re asking people to give up (or at least be very skeptical of) hope of very particular kinds.
First, whether any atheists at all are "evangelical" or not is a matter of controversy. We're talking about the truth, not trying to recruit people to an organization or community. We typically don't care about anyone's specific beliefs about god per se; we care about how people think: skepticism and critical thought are valuable in and of themselves, it just so happens that if adopted thoroughly they lead inevitably to atheism.

Second, Tafarella does not explain how the atheist position is misleading, i.e. false to fact. It might be dangerous, but we're not lying to people, by commission, omission, or equivocation.

Third, a request is not a demand. We're not making anyone abandon their hope. If they want to keep their hope, we're not going to hit them on the head, throw them in jail, or take away their civil rights. No one ever lost his hope and faith and faced "psychological obliteration" because some atheist said, "I don't believe in God, and there's no evidence to believe in God."

It really is true, sometimes an atheist is just a fucktard with one fewer stupid idea than a theist.

The value of fucktardery

Shorter fucktard Randy Alcorn: Our lies are much more comforting and aggrandizing than the atheists' truth.

Also, Alcorn's post features yet another supposed defense of religion by focusing on "everything", as if one could defend Fascism by noting that the trains do indeed run on time. (Which they didn't, but you get my point.)

The whole "atheists have no basis for value or morality" argument just burns my shorts. Atheists generally behave like civilized, neighborly people (and even our "monsters" are no worse and no more prevelant than religious monsters); since we do in fact behave this way, there must be some basis for it; an honest person would discover what it is.

The scientific materialist's view of the value of life is that we are indeed similar to and connected with all life on Earth. Human beings are sentient, we can feel and value, and sapient, we can think. We are indeed not alone in possessing these qualities. Human life — indeed all life — is valuable in itself, because we value it, because we are the sort of beings who care, not because we are the slaves or special pets of a tyrannical and sadistic deity. We don't need to believe human beings "should" care, we need only observe that we do in fact care: that's who we are.

We acknowledge and understand too that most religious people also generally behave in civilized and neighborly ways. And we understand the basis for this behavior: religious people are human beings, and they have the same sort of values and caring nature that all human beings do. We don't say that religion replaces these natural human values, we assert that religion, on the whole, sits "on top" of these values, and is the source of quite a lot of uncivilized, un-neighborly behavior. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when an ordinary, civilized person does something rotten, when he murders a gay person, when he throws acid in a woman's face, when he murders his daughter, you'll find he makes a religious justification for the behavior. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, when some citizens of an ordinary Western civilization try to deny basic civil rights to some group or class of people, you'll find a religious justification behind that denial.

Note that I said religious justification, not motivation. I don't think religion is much of a motivator. Everyone is motivated by natural psychological and sociological factors, for good or for ill. You don't need any justification to act for good; the good is in itself an adequate justification. I don't need God to justify being happy, and I don't need God to justify being nice to my neighbor.

But you absolutely cannot do without God to justify doing ill, or to tolerate the ills of the world. Because I have no God to appeal to, I cannot help looking at injustice, oppression, exploitation and slavery as problems to be solved, because I do in fact care about the well-being of other people. I cannot be satisfied with tokenism. I don't know how to solve these problems, but I'm looking, and if and when I find a way, I'll implement it, regardless of the effects on my own privilege.

I have two points for my series on fucktardery. The first is just to show how completely fucking stupid some religious people can be about their religion. But I also want to show the religious simply cannot leave atheists alone. To defend their own religion, they must attack atheism, intellectualism, and scientific materialism. Never mind who started it: Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek. It would be perfectly reasonable to say, "Hey, if you're an atheist or scientific materialist, good for you, but you're simply mistaken about the evils of our religion and here's why." But they can't, and that's part of our critique: Not only is it wrong, just dissent and disagreement, not to mention rational examination and criticism, are anathema to Christianity. Even the moderate Christians have to defend fundamentalism against the atheist, scientific and materialist critiques, because they know our critiques are fundamentally just as damning of their own lies and myths, however more benign those lies might today happen to be.

Indeed the benign lies are just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than the malevolent lies. It's pretty obvious to see how Fred Phelps goes wrong. But as Diderot notes,
The arbitrary rule of a just and enlightened prince is always bad. His virtues are the most dangerous and the surest form of seduction: they lull a people imperceptibly into the habit of loving, respecting, and serving his successor, whoever that successor may be, no matter how wicked or stupid.

And who's to say that Phelps' theology is actually false and the moderate Christian's is actually true? It must be said that Phelps' theology is certainly more in line with the tone and tenor of the Christian bible (not just the Old Testament; the New Testament has its own wickedness and stupidity). A malevolent and sadistic deity is just as plausible — if not more plausible, given the suffering of the natural world — as a loving and caring deity.

Not all religious people are fucktards, of course. This post from South Africa just popped up, and the guy seems open-minded and intelligent. It'll be interesting to see how he sees himself as different from atheists, and whether this difference is superficial or substantive.

Monday, June 22, 2009

We're not against everything Christian

A couple of fucktards, Andrew (saying, "I know you people are on a mission to discredit anything and everything Christian.") and Suzanne (saying "[Atheists oppose] "theocracy" [which] means ANY laws inspired by Christianity even if people of other religions (and none) can and do agree with them."), seem to think that atheists are against everything Christian. This view is arrant nonsense, a classic straw man fallacy. A culture with two thousand years of history can't get everything wrong, and even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Atheists don't approve of murder, we don't approve of theft, we think families and communities are peachy keen. We do believe we should love our neighbors, and we want everyone to be happy, so far as that's possible; when it's not possible, we want people to suffer as little as possible. We know that people enjoy ritual, and pomp and circumstance have their places.

First, we oppose superstitious bullshit, and even though there are some things that are good about Christianity (at least as a culture), Christianity is simply lousy with superstitious bullshit. More importantly, the "good stuff" in Christian culture is still good even if no God exists, and people can live by it without buying into the superstitious bullshit. Even more importantly, attaching the "good stuff" to the superstitious bullshit makes it easier to sell all the evil, suffering, oppression, exploitation and enslavement that does require all the superstitious bullshit.

So fuck you, assholes. You're not doing anything but covering for your evil, perverted, sanctimonious brethren, and shielding them from criticism.

A somewhat angry fucktard

Fucktard Andrew Adam Sherwood is angry that atheists don't buy his bullshit.
[just] because God gave us commands [doesn't mean] we can’t think situationally.
I don't think Sherwood actually pays attention to a lot of his fellow Christians, and I don't think he understands what a "command" is. I guess life is a lot easier if you get to make up your theology as you go along and just say that must be what God wants.
Furthermore, what basis does this atheist have for doing anything moral?
Pretty much the same basis use for thinking "situationally"; we just don't bother to attribute our personal moral judgment on a deity.
Who says the Nazi’s brand of morality is any better or worse than anyone else’s?
I do, for one. And who says the Nazi's brand of theology is any better or worse than Sherwood's? How can you tell? The Jehovah of the Old Testament seems to put Hitler to shame.
This person has apparently never had any kind of conversation with an intelligent Christian.
Neither have I. I've never met one, at least one that was at all intelligent about his or her religion.
question God’s plan ALL THE TIME!
It's easy to question; the hard part is, how do you answer the questions? Christians just make something up and call it "God's will." How convenient.
I think part of God’s plan is how we deal with accidents and the unexpected.
I don't think Sherwood understand a "plan" is either.
[Atheists] raise [their children] with their same biases, beliefs, morals, etc. To think that just because you’re raising your children without religion automatically makes them “free-thinking” is just damn stupid.
To think that atheists equate lack of religion with skeptical think is not just stupid, it's fucktarded. We teach our children to think for themselves, to at least examine our biases, beliefs or morals.

Sherwood's not that bad of a guy, but he apparently believes that all Christians are exactly like him, or that there are very few "true" Christians in the world. But this is the problem with (mostly) humanist, (mostly) moderate believers: they shield their batshit crazy co-religionists from the well-deserved criticism of their insane beliefs. I see this a lot: "I'm religious, I'm a Christian/Muslim/Orthodox Jew/Hindu and I'm not like that." Fine: if the shoe doesn't fit, you're not obliged to wear it, but a billion other people are like that. Why criticize us for pointing out the manifest flaws of a billion people even if you yourself don't have those flaws?

And you know, when you talk to these "I'm a nice, humanist, free-thinking, rational Christian" types, you always find something where they say, "Well, that's God's will, too bad if you find that oppressive." Usually about abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia or the exploitation of the proletariat. If you justify the oppression or enslavement of just one person you're just as evil as if you justify the oppression and enslavement of a billion.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Apparently using an illegal technique called naked short selling, hedge fund managers have nearly ruined a drug company making what appears to be an effective drug for treating prostate cancer, a drug that could save tens of thousands of lives. [h/t to kevin]


If a man has a gun, and is the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, he's going to kill you. Squeamishness or sentimentality might stop him, but no moral principle will. Religious belief is irrelevant: since you can say anything about God; he'll just convince himself that God wants him to kill you, and who's to say he's wrong? The only way to protect yourself is to make it harder to collect than it is to earn an "honest" living: to remove or counteract his interest in killing you. Happily, bourgeois insurance companies do indeed have their own interest in counteracting your would-be killer's interests, and we don't have a lot of people getting murdered for their life insurance.

This is the problem with bourgeois democracy. Naked short selling is actually illegal, the government knows its happening, and yet they rarely investigate the practice, much less convict billionaire hedge fund managers. All the "principles" were actually in place to regulate the financial system, and all of these principles have been repealed or merely overlooked by our "democratic" government.


The bourgoisie owns the government. The government acts in their interest. The only interest "moderating" the government is the "liberal" wing of the bourgeoisie, operating on platitudes from Roosevelt era with the justification of "saving" the US from socialism, or communism (or more likely fascism) only faintly-remembered. And too the masses of working people have been ground down so subtly that they don't yet realize they're voting for the people who would literally kill them for a few bucks.

The bourgeoisie is going to push their privilege as far as they can; if they can get away with it, they'll push it to Hitlerian or 1984-like extremes. They won't stop until the people rise up and take their power away. And it is entirely possible that things will get bad enough that the people can no longer do so without the bourgeoisie taking their ball and going home: nuking the world until humanity is extinct.

It may already be too late. But I'd rather go down fighting than submit to slavery.

Arrogant fucktardery

Shorter Jenn Q. Public: How dare those arrogant atheists actually believe they're right! Jjust because they have "evidence" and "arguments"? How gauche!

(Pity I used up the "lapsed" gag on the last post.)

Not a lapsed fucktard

Suzanne may be a lapsed atheist, but she's certainly a member in good standing of the fucktard community.

Newsflash: atheists really are smarter than theists, at least generally. There really is a Dominionist movement (not a conspiracy, it's out in the open) to establish a Christian theocracy. Religion, especially Christianity, really is a crutch for dupes.

But the recto-cranial inversion gets worse: "'[T]heocracy' [to which atheists object] means ANY laws inspired by Christianity even if people of other religions (and none) can and do agree with them." Why would we object to laws we can agree with? And it's a blatantly fucktarded contradiction to say we object to laws we actually do agree with.

"As if there could be no rational, reason-based arguments to support these things [traditional marriage, and protect for the unborn]." Sure there are: it is an actual fact that many people hate gay people, and hating someone is a reason [not a reason I generally approve of, but a reason nonetheless] to oppress people. This is a perfectly legitimate reason-based argument in a democracy, but I wonder if Suzanne wants to explicitly make that argument. Other than that, however, the supposedly "rational, reason-based" arguments against gay marriage and abortion rights are ridiculously stupid.

Longwinded tardery of the category fucked

There's nothing especially horrible per se about fucktard's Michael Liccione's arguments against atheism (nothing particularly good), but his sheer long-windedness, his inability to get to the fucking point without driving around Robin Hood's barn, earns him a mention in my hall of fucktardery. I dig through the verbiage so you don't have to.

His "refutation" of the Problem of Evil is banal. "Given the natural order God has willed, it is logically impossible to prevent such presumptively disproportionate suffering without divine intervention so regular as to destroy the natural order of things." Translation: God created a world with evil in it, it's therefore logically impossible for that world to not have evil in it. In other words, STFU and GBTW.

Liccione gets off on the right foot.
Metaphysical naturalists typically hold that the sorts of explanation of the world's existence proffered by classical theists—chiefly, by means of a posteriori cosmological and teleological reasoning—cannot do the sort of work that explanations in general do, and should do. If so, then citing God as creator and/or designer of the world fails to explain anything; therefore, there is no reason to hold that God as explicans exists. But what does it mean to say that theistic explanation of the world's existence doesn't do the sort of work that explanations do?

Classical theists should not, and the most intelligent among them do not, argue that presenting God as creator and/or designer does better explanatory work than the natural sciences. ... The theistic argument is, rather, that citing God as explicans does a different sort of explanatory work than natural science.
So, we must ask, precisely what sort of work does God as creator/designer actually do?
To explain something is to account for why it thus and not otherwise. In order do that, one must show that the explicandum would have been different if the explicans had been different. But classical theism does not claim that the world would have been different if God did not exist; the claim is that the world would not exist at all if God did not exist.
This passage is pure sophistry. First, the existence or nonexistence of the world is the difference the theistic explanation is trying to account for. Second, if a theist is going to propose a God as an explanation, that explanation must account for why God created the world as He did, instead of somehow differently. Even if we let Liccione off the hook for explaining why the world is as it is and not different, he still has to do the ordinary work of any explanation of explaining the difference between a world existing and one not existing.

Liccione goes through a tedious but mostly accurate analysis of the problems of coming up with an explanation of the world as a whole. It boils down to: There is some simplest or best natural, scientific explanation of the world, beyond which no further reduction is possible. This simplest natural explanation cannot be naturally explained; if it could, that explanation would be the simplest and itself not naturally explicable. Alternatively, by going "outside" the existing universe for an explanation, the "outside" would have to be added to the totality of everything that exists, and we would have a new universe to explain.

After eliminating all the easy answers, Liccione finally wanders around to a point: "The only honest way for the theist to proceed is to argue that the question 'Why does T [the totality of everything that exists] exist?' is meaningful in such a way that one could reasonably entertain a non-trivial answer to it." In other words, he stops looking for explanations and satisfies himself with an "answer". Theism essentially provides scope for bullshit, which is the only "honest" way for the theist to proceed. But the big question is left hanging: why should we prefer one answer over another? Liccione's only response is that "one cannot rule out that T's existence embodies an intention, because... intentional explanations need not be thought reducible to causal explanations." But why should we believe that intentional explanations are not reducible to causal explanations? Regardless, to accept something because one cannot "rule it out" is just stupid: no logically coherent structure can be ruled out, however bizarre and rococo, so long as one is free to add arbitrary supporting premises or axioms to support the core axioms (it's even easier when one can invoke "mystery"). The Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are perfectly acceptable on this basis.

Of course, bullshitting is fun, but at the end of the day one can invoke the Universal Philosophical Refutation and render the bullshit artist theologian speechless. On the other hand, if you deny the notion that pain hurts, well, I have a baseball bat, you have a knee, we can put your assertion to the test.

Liccione cites so many objections to theology that one wonders why he has not just thrown in the towel and become an atheist. But finally, after more than 1,600 words, we get to his real argument. Oh wait, sorry. We need almost 500 words to present introductory blather and the banal "refutation" of the problem of evil which says that God is good by definition and without God, there is no basis for moral reasoning. (It's ironic that Liccione characterizes the new atheism as "the old atheism with shoddier arguments.") OK... 2,100 words and we get to his actual argument. In the introductory material scientific thought is presented as a normative standard, a standard that theology does not meet:
In ordinary life, natural science, and especially in formal disciplines such as logic and mathematics, there are reliable, agreed-upon methods for evaluating explanations as successful or unsuccessful. There appear to no such methods in natural theology—a discipline that not even the majority of religious believers find helpful. Given as much, naturalists typically argue that one ought not to expect people to find any of the putative explanations of natural theology cogent as explanations. Expecting people to do so is, in fact, morally defective. For such "explanations" necessarily transcend the sorts of considerations that it's reasonable to count as evidence, and expecting people to go beyond the evidence in forming their beliefs is expecting what's unreasonable. Expecting from people what's unreasonable is a sign of disreputable motives that are themselves all too evident in the history of religion.
Again, he rambles, taking a whole paragraph to get to the point that "the question [is] whether it's moral to go beyond what's generally recognized as evidence is a debate in moral philosophy and psychology."

Unfortunately, having shot his intellectual wad just getting to the point, well pleased with himself, he rolls over and goes to sleep:
About that debate, I shall conclude by noting that the atheist has a lot more work to do than simply pointing out that something called "religion" violates his moral norms. There are many different forms of religion, and some are more capable of moral self-reformation than others. Moreover, before a charge of immorality can be made to stick, there has to be common agreement about what morality requires. A person who believes that the universe is morally indifferent, and that no transcendent lawgiver underwrites morality, is burdened with showing that the moral norms he upholds are objectively binding as such. Unless and until he can do that, his moral arguments against theism can do no more than beg the question.
We've read a total of 2,330 words to hear that — theology not being any sort of an explanation notwithstanding — rationality is a normative standard, that rationality ought to be normative is not proven, therefore God exists.

I stand by my earlier statement: "The theologian... can't tell you what he's talking about, and if he happens to say something meaningful (usually by accident), he can't or won't tell you why he believes it. Theologians will usually try to bury you in doubletalk and ambiguity, hoping you'll think it's all too complicated for your tiny little mind and just accept their authority."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Constitutional accommodationism

Despite considering the point "really important", Brown apparently does not understand the American legal system at all.
Suppose we concede that the new atheists are right, and no true, honest scientist could be anything other than an atheist. If that is true, the teaching of science itself becomes unconstitutional.
An act becomes unconstitutional only when the Supreme Court actually so rules, despite how Brown or anyone else (including those on the Supreme Court) believes they might rule in the future.

It's completely implausible that the Supreme Court would ever actually rule this way — if they can rule that "In God We Trust" doesn't establish a religion, they can rule that teach scientific truth does not violate the Establishment clause.

The current legal standard regarding Church-state separation is the Lemon test*, which establishes the following criteria:
  1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
*Subsequent developments in Supreme Court jurisprudence have had the effect of weakening, not strengthening, the Lemon Test.

It would be unconstitutional to teach science only if the primary effect were to inhibit religion, but the primary effect of science is to understand truth about the world. The secondary effects are legally irrelevant.

Finally even if this assertion were true, then so what? Bring it on! The U.S. Constitution is not holy writ, and if the Supreme Court were to be so appalling stupid (even by the standards of American conservatism) as to prohibit the teaching of science under the Establishment Clause, then the Establishment Clause would have to be repealed.

Brown is just talking out of his ass. Quelle suprise.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fucktarded commenter

Commenter Makarios says the most fucktarded thing I've heard today: "[T]hose who can willingly submit to authority, even if the authority is doing stupid things, are those who have inner freedom."

War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength

Update: I suppose Makarios does have a point: those who submit absolutely to authority are free of moral responsibility. "Don't blame me for throwing acid in a woman's face, it's God who demands it: what, you want I should go to hell? No thanks! Don't blame me for flying airplanes into buildings, or murdering physicians, or blowing up buildings, or slaughtering hundreds of thousands or millions of people, or protecting pedophile priests, or keeping millions in poverty, or contributing to the spread of AIDS, or murdering homosexuals. I vas chust followink orders.

Austin Cline on Christian authoritarianism

Austin Cline was kind enough to point me to some of his work on Christian authoritarianism.

All Resistance to Any Legitimate Authority is Rebellion Against God
Huckabee's Religious Authoritarianism: Vertical Politics
Using Religious Scripts to Define Social Roles (Book Notes: Desert Patriarchy)
Right-Wing Politics & Religion in a Nutshell

What is the dialectical materialist to make of this these tendencies? The resemblances between Christian fundamentalism and feudal and fascist political structures are obvious. But the feudal political structure is a dialectical outcome of contradictions within pre-feudal means of production and slave-based economic relations and was stable only until mechanization and steam power created new contradictions. Fascism is a dialectical outcome to the contradictions inherent in bourgeois capitalism, but its militarism and authoritarianism are entirely unstable and revert relatively quickly back to liberal (more-or-less) bourgeois capitalism.

(In a similar sense, the political authoritarianism of the Soviet and Chinese communists created contradictions that caused them to revert to bourgeois capitalism. Marx and Lenin give short shrift to the political superstructure, predicting that when the contradictions between the means of production and capitalist economic relations create socialist economic relations, the political superstructure will more-or-less fall into place. I believe this view is too simplistic. Mao I think saw the importance of the political superstructure in its own right, but failed to hit upon a workable plan to stave off a regression to capitalist economics after his death. While these mistakes might (or might not) be excusable, they are mistakes nonetheless and must be corrected in future communist endeavors.)

In one sense, we can probably see Christian fundamentalist authoritarianism as another version of fascism, self-defeating for the same reasons that mid-20th century fascism was self-defeating. On the other hand, the self-defeating nature of fascism still entailed millions of deaths and unimaginable suffering. We also cannot ignore the combination of the apocalyptic ideology of Christian fascism and the existence of enough nuclear weapons to destroy all humanity many times over. Millions of fundamentalist Christians are not only willing to destroy the world, but actively looking forward to the extinction of all humanity. Christian fascism may be self-defeating, but they could very easily drag the entire world down with them.

As we know from evolution, dialectical materialism entails extinction and regression just as much as it does progress and growth.

Atheism and authority

Austin Cline rebuts the argument that people become atheists to escape the authority of God, as presented by Robert Morey, in his book The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom. Cline correctly rebuts Morey's fallacious argument, but Morey does wander within spitting distance of an actual point.

Of course the immediate cause of someone becoming an atheist is usually examination of the evidence and arguments for the existence of God, which, while clever, are all transparently fallacious or unsound; not just wrong but obviously wrong. Since millions of people actually do believe that a god exists, there must be some actual cause of that belief, a cause unrelated to logical analysis, a cause that does not apply to atheists.

There are actually a few such causes: atheists typically do not fear death; theists almost universally do fear death, their fantasies of personal immortality can be seen as whistling in the dark and do not assuage that fear (it is typically just moved to fear of hell).

Another important cause is a different attitude towards authority; and I suspect Morey at least has a glimpse of this different attitude. Christians, especially fundamentalist Christians, obey authorities because they're authorities. I see this often in fundamentalist apologetics: "God truly is a sovereign, therefore has the right to govern us entirely as He sees fit, and we have no right to question such governance."

Atheists, on the other hand, typically consider the individual to be sovereign: the individual grants authority to an institution because she chooses to do so, because it is in her interests to grant authority. She grants as an individual the authority to investigate, prosecute and punish unlawful killing to the government because it is in her interest to both refrain from killing others as well as to prevent others — even if they dissent philosophically — from killing her. And, if the body or institution receiving the grant of authority does not act in the individual's interest, she can later revoke the grant of authority.

In the atheist view — or, more precisely, a view that leads to atheism — sovereignty does not entail authority over others. Sovereignty is, rather, an ineluctable and inalienable property of each individual, and entails authority only over herself.

It's easy to see that this view of authority is just fossilized feudalism. The ethical and political structures of feudalism are of course complex, but fundamentally grants authority to the king because he is king. There are notions of "good" and "bad" sovereigns, but the subject fundamentally has an ethical duty to even the worst of sovereigns; indeed the only time one can "judge" the sovereign is when his claim to sovereignty is disputed by another claimant. Lacking a legitimate disputant, the subject simply cannot judge the sovereign; she is ethically bound to grit her teeth, obey the king, and wait for a better successor.

Once one abandons this feudal notion of sovereignty and adopts the idea that the individual is sovereign, the Christian apologetic argument from God's sovereignty collapses: Not only does no god exist, but there is no unfilled position of king of kings in which to place an imaginary god.

Quotation of the day

The tenets of skepticism do not require an advanced degree to master, as most successful used car buyers demonstrate. The whole idea of a democratic application of skepticism is that everyone should have the essential tools to effectively and constructively evaluate claims to knowledge. All science asks is to employ the same levels of skepticism we use in buying a used car or in judging the quality of analgesics or beer from their television commercials.

But the tools of skepticism are generally unavailable to the citizens of our society. They're hardly ever mentioned in the schools, even in the presentation of science, its most ardent practitioner, although skepticism repeatedly sprouts spontaneously out of the disappointments of everyday life. Our politics, economics, advertising and religions (new age and old) are awash in credulity. Those who have something to sell, those who wish to influence public opinion, those in power, a skeptic might suggest, have a vested interest in discouraging skepticism.

— Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World
[h/t and happy blogversary to toomanytribbles]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The cult of fear

What strikes me most often talking with Christians is how deeply and thoroughly their outlook on life is permeated by fear. Fear of God and fear of death most obviously: all Christian love, charity, community, cooperation is founded explicitly on the fear of God and judgment after death. One need only look at the vapidity and superficiality of the Christian heaven versus the depth of imagination and sadistic detail of the Christian hell to see that fear, not hope, governs the Christian mind.

But not just the big fears, but the little fears too: fear of change, fear of sex, fear of women, fear of the foreigner and other races, fear of poverty, fear of ostracism; also the superstitious fears: fears of demons, curses and witches. (Many of my own family, well-educated scientifically literate middle-class white Americans all, talk about these superstitious fears in the same matter-of-fact voice that we talk about carpets and cantaloupes.)

The most notable fear is the fear of real freedom, of acknowledging that at the end of the day each person is accountable finally and only to his or her own conscience. To a Christian it is a trope that a person accountable only to his own conscience will necessarily and inevitably commit the most wildly immoral acts: break the sabbath, have sex for fun, fail to tithe, sass the priests, turn pedophile priests into the cops, eat meat on Friday*, eat pork, drink, masturbate and commit even that most heinous and unforgivable sin: denying the holy spirit**. It's inconceivable to a Christian that someone can feel actual empathy for another human being. To a Christian, that empathy is just an act put on in fear of a savage and vengeful God. He knows the falsity of his own feelings; it's inconceivable that another could be sincere.

*Yes, I know, it's no longer a matter of Catholic doctrine.
**Whatever the fuck that means.

I don't hate Christians, but I do pity them and hold them in contempt. How terrible it must be to live your life in fear. I have contempt and disdain too for those who live in fear, for the slave who has so internalized his shackles that he cannot escape even when the shackles of mere iron are cast off. But the admixture of pity keeps the contempt from turning into hatred. And, too, I know and face my fears, and hatred is just the expression of hidden fears.

I have contempt and disdain too because — besides the sword — contempt, not reason or tolerance, is in the end what effects social and personal change. It is only when the king or priest is held in contempt, as an object of ridicule, that he no longer commands the subservience of his subjects. It is only when the racist, the sexist, the bigot is pointed to and laughed at that he conceals his bigotry instead of teaching to his children and endorsing it in his community.

All the Christian — indeed any slave — gives me to work with is his fear. The most benign fear I can work with is the fear of ridicule, and ridicule seems more benign than the fears at the top of the Christian toolbox: torture, death and eternal damnation.

Ken Miller is lying

I don't see any other way to interpret Jerry Coyne's latest rebuttal to Ken Miller than that Miller is either intentionally lying or is too stupid to read the plain meaning of Coyne's remarks.

I don't see how anyone can remain a professional scientist, regardless of his intelligence and skill, without an absolute commitment to the factual truth.

Perhaps Coyne can't say it, but I can: Ken Miller is a liar and unfit to be a member of the scientific community.

Positively a fucktard

I'm continuing my criticism and condemnation of Rod Dreher's interview of fucktard John Gray. Other than connecting phrases and filler, there literally is not a single substantive line of this interview that's not completely, obviously and egregiously full of shit.

Gray wants to connect New Atheism to Posivitism (presumably the Vienna Circle) and deprecates Positivism as "anti-liberal":
New Atheism, in Gray's view, is a cruder version of 19th-century Positivism, the philosophical position holding that the only real knowledge is knowledge acquired through the senses. ...

Gray says the Positivists were anti-liberal. Some were fiercely intolerant, because they believed that all knowledge could and should become scientific. Science seeks absolute, clear and logical truth, so once social truth is rationally arrived at, why should we tolerate error? (Compare this, by the way, to the anti-liberal Leo XIII's assertion that "error has no rights" -- a formulation that the Second Vatican Council elegantly reinterpreted to mean that error may have no rights, but human beings do). Gray said the original Positivists hated individualism and critical thinking, and believed that a universal convergence of scientific truth would also mean a convergence of values.
Talk about ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack. Let's unpack this paragraph.

First of all, why talk about Positivism at all? It is definitely the case that the New Atheist writers in the major or minor canon have no special connection to Positivism, apart from the general connection of all ideas in philosophy. If anything, the scientific orientation of many New Atheists connects them more firmly to Karl Popper, who was not a Positivist, not a member of Vienna Circle, critical of Positivist philosophy, and known as much or more for his liberal political philosophy as for his work on scientific epistemology. We can conclude only that Gray is promoting the worst kind of ad hominem guilt-by-association bullshit. Anyone can read the New Atheist canon, the major canon is very readable and cogent; the Positivist canon is, however, hard to find, hard to read, and has very little to do with actual politics. By pushing the criticism to the Positivists, Gray makes his remarks difficult to refute.

And why too does a conservative blogger approve of Gray's criticism of Positivism as anti-liberal? Dreher makes his equivocation obvious: when he wants to condemn someone as being anti-liberal, he means "liberal" "in the sense that all of us in the modern West are liberals." So the charge is that the Positivists, although part of all of us in the modern West are somehow against all of us in the modern West.

But in what sense were the Positivists against all of us in the modern West? Wikipedia mentions the "the so called 'left wing' of the Vienna Circle, mainly represented by Neurath and Carnap, and Moritz Schlick. The aim of the left wing was to facilitate the penetration of the scientific world-conception in "the forms of personal and public life, in education, upbringing, architecture, and the shaping of economic and social life". In contrast, [Vienna circle leader Moritz] Schlick was primarily interested in the theoretical study of science and philosophy." Furthermore, "The Vienna Circle was dispersed when the Nazi party came to power in Germany; many of its members emigrated to USA, where they taught in several universities. Schlick remained in Austria, but in 1936 he was killed by a Nazi sympathizer student in the University of Vienna." The Vienna Circle was not exactly the backbone of National Socialism.

We can infer that Gray connects liberalism has something to do with the toleration of error. The anti-liberal Positivists were fans of science, science does not tolerate error, nor does "anti-liberal" Leo XIII. So, presumably, liberalism (as defined by Gray) does tolerate error. But what precisely do we mean by tolerating or not tolerating error? It is wildly ridiculous to assert that the Positivists, the scientific community, the New Atheists, or skeptics in general favor, advocate or approve of criminal, civil or any sort of punitive sanctions against people who make errors. What we assert is only that error should be criticized. (Intentional or grossly negligent lying is a horse of a different color, but even then the strongest sanction I've seen advocated (outside of ordinary laws against fraud, libel and slander) is calling liars liars and fucktards.)

Gray (if he is trying to make any underlying sense at all, and not just throwing pejoratives at random) is therefore arguing that liberalism and tolerance entails not criticizing error... and he then goes on, astoundingly enough, to say the Positivists hated critical thinking. Maybe Gray really is just throwing pejoratives at random; we can only wonder why he did not also accuse the Positivists of fucking sheep, beating their wives and mopery on the high seas.

Gray is descending into pure truth-relativism here. (Of course truth-relativism always permits criticism of the other guy.) This is a broad pattern in conservative and religious discourse: They criticize the liberals and atheists for their alleged truth-relativism but immediately retreat into truth-relativism when they're the ones being criticized.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Religion and killiing

Jeff Allen says, "Dear liberals and athiests [sic], My religion is the only thing that keeps me from killing you, are you sure you want me to give it up?"

Here's the thing, Jeff: If you're standing on the edge of a cliff, it's your choice whether you step off or not. All I can do is point out the factual truth that if you do step off, you will fall to your death.

Likewise: Keep or give up your religion as you please. I would prefer you didn't, but it's your choice whether you kill me (or try to kill me) or not. All I can do is point out the factual truth that on the personal level I know how to defend myself and I'm willing to kill in self defense; additionally the police take a dim view of murder and I hear prison is an uncomfortable place to spend the rest of your life (which may be on the short side, as my state has capital punishment for first degree murder). On a social level, it's your choice whether or not to start a civil war, despite my preference that you don't. But keep in mind that liberals, atheists, socialists and communists are slow to anger but fierce when finally roused: as the Thai national anthem goes, we're nice, friendly, tolerant people, but if you pull out a knife we'll finish the job. Again, it's entirely your choice what to start, how it ends might not be so amenable to your will.

I'm not at all interested in relying on bullshit superstitions to maintain civilized behavior. That's why the police have real guns and prisons have real bars.

Ball's in your court, you cowardly little prick.

[h/t to Atheist Revolution]

Theism and genocide

The Christian — at least the theologically and intellectually honest Christian* — must hold that what shocks his conscience is not that Hitler intentionally and deliberately slaughtered ten million people in death camps, but only that he did so without first securing priestly approval. (And that he did not actually win; had Hitler won, the Christians would have been quick to provide theological cover.)

*Both of them

Ultimate good

Fucktard* Tom Gilson asserts
Atheism entails that there is no ultimate good...

Likewise and with the same kind of condition attached, atheism entails that there is no ultimate meaning, no ultimate morality, no ultimate beauty, no ultimate purpose for anything.
*His actual fucktardery lies elsewhere

Well, OK, I'll bite. Atheism per se doesn't actually entail this conclusion, but skepticism and evidentiary reasoning do, at least on the evidence we presently have. The evidence supports the conclusion that good, meaning, beauty, morality and purpose are contingent characteristics of actual human beings; in some senses contingent on individual personality, in other senses contingent on the specific biological and social evolutionary history of human beings.

But what good is an "ultimate good" anyway, especially an ultimate good that must be justified by reference to a deity and, more sharply, by virtue of private revelation of the deity's ultimate good to priests and prophets?

If some ethical system (such as humanism) is somehow naturally justifiable (objectively or subjectively by some appeal to moral intuition) then the natural justification is sufficient: one need not gratuitously invoke a deity to explain what has already been explained naturally. On the other hand, if no ethical system were naturally justifiable, then there is no reason to believe an ethical system justifiable only by a deity and by private revelation would be humanistic. For all we know, a deity might just as easily approve of as disapprove of rape, genocide, and slavery; if we exclude a priori natural justification, our moral intuition is therefore also excluded; there are by definition no naturally knowable constraints on what a deity might approve or disapprove of of.

And of course we have actual evidence that Christians believe their deity can under some circumstances not just permit but actually command that human beings commit rape, genocide, and slavery.

To proclaim that your ethical beliefs come from a deity does not seem like an effective way to build trust. I hear every Christian saying to me, "I am a slave; my own will is irrelevant and meaningless. That I don't kill you, rape your wife, enslave your children and plow salt in your fields has nothing whatsoever to do with me personally; nothing to do with what I personally want; nothing to do with what I personally approve or disapprove of. The only reason I refrain from such behavior is that God, through the agency of the priests and prophets I'm subservient to, has not commanded such behavior... at least not yet. If, however, I am tomorrow commanded to do so, I will have no moral or emotional qualms whatsoever. I care nothing for you on my own account; I care about you — at least today — only because I'm commanded to do so. Indeed I will assert that it is not only right for me to obey priests and prophets God, it is wrong to interfere in any way and under any circumstances with my obedience."

The subjectivist, on the other hand, says, "I am a free person. I care not a whit what anyone else — priest, prophet or deity — commands me to do: I will do what I want, and I will not do what I do not want to do. I do not want to kill you; I do not want to rape your wife, enslave your children and plow salt in your fields. I do want you to be happy, just like I want everyone else, myself included, to be happy. These are deep and constant desires, not just transient whims. Furthermore, I will guarantee my good will and the constancy of these desires: I consent to and will pay for a democratic process to determine what is lawful and unlawful, as well as police, courts and prisons to subject myself to overwhelming coercion if I'm lying or inconstant."

I see no reason whatsoever that I should consider Christians, Muslims, and indeed anyone who asserts a necessarily theistic morality as anything but a potentially violent lunatic, who proclaims the "ultimate good" of slavery, mindless obedience and sanctimonious delusions, i.e. a commitment to long-outmoded feudal social constructions.

The thinking fucktard

Fucktard Tom Gilson, a.k.a. The "Thinking" Christian, makes several assertions about what atheism entails. All of them are incorrect. That atheism actually entails there is no "ultimate meaning, no ultimate morality, no ultimate beauty, no ultimate purpose for anything" is to assume what is a matter of controversy, that ultimate meaning, etc. by definition must come from a god. Depending on how the syllogism is formed, Gilson commits one of two different fallacies. Under the first form:

P1: If god exists, then there is ultimate meaning, etc.
P2: God exists
C: There is ultimate meaning

Gilson commits the logical fallacy of inferring the converse: It does not follow that the atheist, who denies P2 above, must conclude there is no ultimate meaning. Under the second form:

P1: If no god exists, then there is no ultimate meaning, etc.
P2: There is ultimate meaning
C: God exists

In this case, the atheist denies the conclusion, which means she must deny one or both of the premises. But we cannot infer from a denial of the conclusion which premise she denies.

Now, it happens to be the case that many atheists (myself included) also happen to believe there is no "ultimate" meaning. But this is beside the point. The denial of ultimate meaning is not entailed by atheism; at best, they are both entailed by more fundamental premises or hypotheses. But, logically speaking, there is no direct logical or analytic connection between atheism and any question of "ultimate" meaning.

Now, this philosophical mistake is so common among blinkered slave-morality Christians that it doesn't really qualify as "fucktardery". What does qualify is this statement:
Atheism entails that humans and animals and plants and bacteria and rats and pigs and dogs and boys (google the last four) are ontologically the same thing.
This statement is so moronic and ridiculous that no sane person can take Gilson seriously or grant him minimal intellectual competence and good faith; we can only point and laugh.

[h/t to faithlessgod]

Monday, June 15, 2009

The riots in Iran

archvillain passes on the latest news from Iran:
Iran is descending into chaos, and the only people who seem to be keeping tabs on it are online. Forget about “the most trusted name in news“- they’re busy wanking themselves over the vital issue of Dan-Quayle-in-drag versus David Letterman. The only “real” news network spending any time on these events is the BBC.
Read the rest

Deeply fucktarded

Fucktard c.t. thinks atheists are shallow:
I like to point out to atheists that they are shallow. Not only can't they see anything in the higher influences that are the Old and New Testaments, but they similarly can't see anything of worth in Homer or Plutarch or Plato. Shallow. You have to be shallow to be an atheist.

Tyrfingr, when you atheists make, for instance, metaphysical incuriosity a mark of intelligence you are shallow. Deathly so.
He also has some sort of a grudge against Swedes:
Do they lobotomize you Euros when you're school children? I realize public opinion is very powerful in homogeneous countries, but Scandinavia is taking it to extremes that suggests thought-control.
There goes another irony meter!

Rowan Williams on religion

Archbishop of Canturbury Rowan Williams claims that atheists misunderstand theism. I don't think this is the case, but let us examine his own definitions of theism. [I'm unable to locate the full text of his speech; I must rely on the two excerpts quoted in the article.]

Williams first says that religious believers do not use scientific means as a justification of their belief:
Williams said religion cannot be accurately viewed in terms of science, as hypotheses, because belief in God comes with no conditions attached. For believers, he said, God is real and existed before the universe did.

"The believer who worships assumes absolutely that God is there and worth attending to."
It is difficult to understand how atheists are misunderstanding this attitude, except in the sense that many believers explicitly reject this understanding of faith as absolute assumption with no conditions attached. Skeptical atheists are opposed in principle to making absolute assumptions about the world, assumptions without conditions. We object even more strenuously when these unconditional, absolute assumptions are made about ethics. Ethics must be conditioned on (for objectivists) the same sort of epistemic basis that justify beliefs about the physical world or (for humanists) the well-being and happiness of actual human beings (itself only naturally and empirically determinable).

I've had this conversation a hundred times with religious believers:

Me: Faith is belief in the without regard for (or in direct opposition to) empirical, public evidence. [i.e. Williams' definition above]

Believer: I object! You're misrepresenting and trivializing faith. There's actual evidence for my faith.

Me: Perhaps I'm wrong. What is the evidence for your faith?

[At this point some believers will take a detour to evidentiary apologetics, such as Josh McDowell or William Lane Craig. Their evidentiary arguments simply do not stand up to careful scrutiny. Once these evidentiary arguments have been debunked, these theists will rejoin our discussion]

Believer: The evidence of our senses is consistent with belief in God.

Me: You're using evidence in a completely different way than skeptics use evidence. "Consistent with" doesn't cut the mustard: we've known for more than a century that the evidence is "consistent" with every possible logically consistent set of statements — Islam, Hinduism, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, the Standard Model of physics, evolution, intelligent design, Velikovskyism, and the delusions of every paranoid schizophrenic — if you're allowed to make up axioms at will to support your core principles at will. When you make up extra axioms to preserve your "core" axioms "come what may", those core axioms are not conditioned at all on the evidence. Your faith is just as I described: held without regard to empirical evidence.

Believer: But you yourself hold some propositions, such as the privilege of evidence, without regard to the evidence.

Me: I disagree, but that's beside the point: you just told me that your "faith" is conditioned on the evidence, when it manifestly is not. We can discuss metaphysics if you want to admit my definition of faith is an accurate representation of your own methodology, but pick a leg to stand on; don't just switch back-and-forth between definitions to escape the criticism of the moment. It's irritating, obnoxious, and intellectually dishonest to tell me I "misunderstand" your beliefs when you won't define them consistently.

The problem is that Williams' description of faith is not susceptible to any criticism more sophisticated than, "Well, that's just completely fucking stupid."

Williams goes on to tie religious belief to morality, supporting my argument that the controversy between religion and skeptical atheism is not primarily an ontological (how the world actually is) or an epistemological (how we know things about the world) conflict, but rather fundamentally and primarily an ethical conflict. The article quotes Williams:
The religious believer says that moral integrity, self-introspection, honesty and trust are styles of living that connect with the character of an eternal and free agency, the agency most religions call God. Agree or disagree, but I would say to critics, at least grasp that that is being talked about. Often the atheist seems to be talking about something else.
I hear you: you say that moral integrity, etc. connect with the character of God. One can thus infer, therefore, if one's style of living does not connect with God, then one must be lacking at least one of the qualifiers: moral integrity, self-introspection, honesty and/or trust.

(I must commend Williams at least for not making the obviously ridiculous assertion that a connection to God leads to moral integrity, etc.)

One must thus ask: is this an analytic statement, a definition, or is it a synthetic statement, a statement whose truth must be established by some sort of interaction with the world? Is "moral integrity" defined to be a connection with God, or can moral integrity and connection with God be defined independently of each other, and the consistent connection between the two established independently of their respective definitions?

The analytic case is boring: it's trivial and entirely unpersuasive to simply define morality as religious belief. Not only that, but such a definition would require the addition definition of correct God (a definition the ecumenicalists deny and a definition the fundamentalists all disagree upon violently) or we have to accept that anyone doing anything because of his religious belief — including slaughtering heretics, abusing children in orphanages or locking schoolgirls in a burning building — was acting morally. This analytic definition also says that anyone doing anything without a connection to God is by definition acting immorally, even if she is being helpful, charitable, kind and considerate.

If the analytic case is boring, the synthetic case is ridiculous. By any humanistic standard, tens of millions of atheists and irreligious (not to mention billions of people with the "wrong" religion) do in fact have a style of life that includes "moral integrity, self-introspection, honesty and trust," without having any connection whatsoever to any deity.

Atheists do not spend much time talking about Williams' definition of religious belief because it's trivially and obviously false; easily refuted and dismissed by a relatively bright and well-educated teenager. It's more important (and more fun) to focus our attention on the attempts of the religious to disguise and obfuscate the trivial stupidity and falsity of Williams' version of religion.