Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hey look! I'm hysterical!

Hey Bill Maher - thanks for this: Please Stop Apologizing

Now, I agree with you to an extent.  The politics of outrage are a bit out of control.  Do I think for a moment that every spat about a gaff or off-color comment or passing insensitivity or the latest Godwin's Law violation is genuine?  Nah.  Do I want free speech?  Of course.  Do I want politicians and essentially everyone else in the universe to be candid occasionally even it if is not personally or politically expedient?  Sure.

A lack of honesty means that there are no real conversation.  We need real conversations.

A friend of mine linked a series of comments about the murder of Trayvon Martin.  This was my response:

"This isn't the only site or the only issue where commenters have said absolutely horrific things that point directly to them simply not seeing *certain* other people as fully human. Of course, forums are not all created equal and some of them attract those types of comments much more than others. I have mixed feelings about it - it is absolutely horrible, but if it weren't for the anonymity of the internet and the emboldening nature of non-personal communication, the fact that these attitudes exist and how pervasive they are wouldn't see the light of day. It is difficult to pretend that those attitudes don't exist when they are written so plainly."

People outwardly show their incredible lack of self-awareness of extreme privilege, their pathological lack of empathy, and the pit of self-serving murderous venom deep down in their hearts all the time.  This is a great service to those who require stark examples to help show:  YES - it IS still like that.  YES - some people do not see a human when they see a black person.  YES - some people really do think of women as nothing but a vagina and an incubator.  YES - some people really do want to shoot gays in the head in the name of God.

No - we aren't delusional.

Look - not all slights are created equal.  I absolutely get that - but do you?

Do you ever notice that the ones who seem the most "over-sensitive" are the ones who have to deal with real, frightening, disheartening, dangerous, dehumanizing verbal abuse and unjust treatment ALL THE DAMN TIME?

Oh look - someone make a joke about Newt's wife's whiteness? La dee frickin' dah.

Do you think that's in the same category as a three day rant about the sex life of a college student, asking for a sex tape, and using the same damn arguments that have been used to treat women as property and devalue sexually active or raped women as damaged goods for centuries?  

Do you think perhaps the fact that a man can essentially hunt down and shoot a teenager, admit to it, have witnesses to it, have several recorded 911 calls describing it, and that man gets a pass due to lack of evidence, might have something to do with the "sensitivity"?  To have an unarmed boy be gunned down and have a significant number of people (including a popular nationally known personality - good old Glenn Beck) blame this young man for being killed because he was wearing a goddamn hoodie; or just blaming him for existing in the first place - do you think that living in a culture that produces that reaction might make for just a little teensy-winsy bit of justifiable anger?  Perhaps that might explain getting a little miffed when some popular paragon of dominant cultural norms refers to you as a "nappy headed ho"?

Do you really think that a few isolated ill-chosen words or "oops" moments or unpopular insights; is the same as the media (heck our entire American culture) only presenting the life and the body of a transgender person as the butt of a joke - reducing hir human worth to easy sleazy ridicule?  Do you think that perhaps the fact that about 75% of transgender young people have been sexual harassed at school, over half of transgender people have been physically attacked, and 90% report being verbally abused; might make that group a little pissed off?  Do you really think that they should just lay down and take it?  Do you think, when all those funny funny people feed the ugly malignant forces that are literally KILLING them - they should learn how to take a joke?

Do I want people to stop apologizing?  Yes - but not because nobody bothers to call them on their word vomit but because they decide not to say hurtful, stupid, bigoted, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic,  Islamophobic, racist, crap in the first place; but I do not want them to avoid saying it because of fear of someone demanding an apology while people like you diminish the voices of those horribly thin-skinned over-sensitive masses that have the audacity to point out how hurtful, stupid, bigoted, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and racist those comments are; but because less people make their bread and butter playing the role of asshole provocateurs and more people actually understand the words coming out of their own damn mouths.  

But if they come for you:  Be assured, I won't worry my pretty little head about it.

Get it - that was a reference to the holocaust - I crack myself up!  :P

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Treat me the same because I'm different.

There is a new idea in disability services - a wonderful idea.  In the past, disability services were places where students with specific diagnosable permanent disability were able to ask for reasonable accommodations and exceptions to rules in order to succeed.  They still are.  However, it's become obvious that this is not enough.  Many people requiring accommodation simply aren't diagnosed or diagnosable; the disability may be temporary or enigmatic; the student may be unwilling or unable to seek professional assistance; they may be very adverse to being singled out for "exceptions".  So, these days disability services also helps educational institutions to build structures, policies, and student activities that, by their nature, are inclusive of the inherent diversity within the population that these institutions serve.  This does NOT require lowering expectations or changing the goals of the curriculum.  The idea is that the institution should give too all students reasonable flexibility and a range of tools and opportunities so that more students are able to succeed at a high level.

The fundamental idea is that if a structure or policy is created that would contribute to the success of students with disabilities, perhaps it would contribute to the success of all students.  A very simple example would be requiring elevators.  Elevators are sometimes thought of as a horrid expense required by ADA only for the purpose of allowing a very small number of people access to a location that they would otherwise not have.  However, the moment a non-disabled student breaks their leg or someone has to transport equipment up a few flights - all the sudden elevators are a useful tool that everyone, at some point, may utilize in order to participate.

It's simple.  What is good for some students is generally good for all students.  It is better to keep in mind the individuality of students when making decisions that affect everyone, than having rigid structures that require constant exceptions for many students to even have a chance, much less to thrive.

I propose we extend this idea to the concept of religious freedom.

I know we already do to a great degree.  Many clauses for opting out of this or that include language such as "philosophy" or "conscience" - not just religion.

I'm not sure why we can't just make only the laws completely necessary for the functioning of our society - those laws that cannot be simply tossed out based on someone's religious belief.  If all that is required to exempt myself from such a law is to say that God told me not to follow it, and that is somehow OKAY, then perhaps that law shouldn't be imposed on the rest of us.  Perhaps all of us, regardless of readily obtainable diagnosis, should have the same opt-out options?  Wouldn't that be good for us all?

The way you don't conduct a secular government is to disallow women to cover their heads.  You don't pass blasphemy laws.  You don't curtail the building of churches.  You don't allow tax exempt status to depend on theology.  You don't place children into public schools by force.  You don't allow parents to deny healthcare to their children because God told them to beat the Satan out of their little witch or pray the diabetes away - unless you are willing to allow parents to beat their children and to not medically treat their children onto imminent death "because".

You also don't allow someone to refuse to do hir job (such as providing a service for someone) because God told hir not to, without the same consequences as someone simply refusing to do hir job.  It is also inappropriate for any institution to make it more difficult for a person to be able to perform in hir job needlessly.

Why would we make accommodations for someone to take a leave of absence for a religious reason but not a secular one; or a secular one but not a religious one?  Perhaps a policy that allows for the maximum amount of practical flexibility should be employed - and leave the reasons to the personal lives of employees.  Would that be so difficult?

Would the same policies and laws applying to everyone equally be too much to ask?

Maybe both in the private and public sector, in law and in government, people should be treated the same - equally - in great respect for our human diversity?  Could it be that treating people the same is the best way to respect our differences?  Could we simply be allowed to act upon our conscience in the privacy of our minds and our personal lives, regardless of where we believe that conscience comes from?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ad hominem hypocrites?

[This is a reply to a comment on a blog post here.]

You’re so bent on raging against the strawmen in your mind, you refuse to have a real conversation. I know quite a few liberals that can’t do anything but rail against the cartoonish conservatism that they lap up on the news too. See, it’s all about Coke and Pepsi, IBM and Apple, Liberal and Conservative, Eurasia and Oceania.

The original post is just an extension of that. We can’t just have a conversation about what Rush actually said and how inappropriate it is – and all agree. It has to be packaged in an US against THEM fashion. Everyone just lock-steps into the manufactured conflict, false dichotomies, and convenient outrage.

I don’t listen to Maher often – usually only when someone sends me a link or something. I did watch Religulous and wasn’t impressed. It needed less mocking, more substance, and the end was preachy and annoying. I’m not a big fan because he is borderline germ-theory denialist (which really bothers me) and even though his show has had some brilliant moments - of playing a brilliant devil’s advocate - you have to wade through the rest of it. he is also defending Rush – which I’m not too keen on.

I have never in my entire life listened to Ed Shultz except when someone linked his apology about his own misogynistic statements in an article about Rush. I never bothered with him because I was told he is just insulting – essentially a liberal version of Rush – and I don’t see the point of that.

So, exactly WHO is the charge of hypocrisy against? That nameless liberal horde? The “elite media”? What are their names? Who exactly has said that it is okay for liberal commentators to be misogynistic and conservatives should be blasted? I know that, according to Rush, every political hit and forced apology and professional set-back caused by misogynistic statements of “liberals” never happened. The news never reported on it. Nobody ever apologized and all his listeners shouldn’t hold their breath. …but we all know that’s a lie. Rush isn’t magically better than every other painfully misogynistic public figure because he apologized (poorly) and claimed (falsely) that nobody else has.

My point was that you could attack your political opponents (either rightly or wrongly) based on your disagreements with them or their actions and not some sort of immutable characteristic. You don’t need to say racist, homophobic, sexist, able-ist, or transphobic things to attack your opponents; if that’s all you have, your attack isn’t just mean or hateful; it has no substance at all and just supports generalized bigotry.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is it love?

This is a gem from everyone's close and personal friend, American's Best Christian, Mrs. Betty Bowers.

One of my friends linked in his Facebook.  Perhaps rightly so, someone pointed out that Mr. Cameron didn't say that he hated anyone.  He is a Christian and he loves everyone.  This was my initial response:

"In order to "love" everyone, but hate X, Y and Z - you have to redefine "love" out of existence."

I was hoping to start a conversation with the statement.  It's a pretty vague statement really and slightly incendiary.  I am well aware of the doctrine of "Hating the sin and loving the sinner", and that ideal can be extremely positive in the right context.  For example, if someone is having difficulty with addiction, emotional problems, or other struggles; you can hate that they are struggling and that they are acting in ways that are destructive without hating them.  You can find the strength and patience to possibly help them or get them help.  If someone is a criminal -  even of horrible crimes - you can love them enough as a human being to refrain from unusual punishment, torture or killing that person.  You can respect another person as a human despite what they have done.  In the context of how we treat our prisoners of war, how we treat our criminals, and how we treat those who have wronged us in our lives - the idea of loving them but hating their sin can be a powerful idea.

Perhaps rightly so, she explained that I was mistaken.  She asked rhetorically, "Can you love your spouse/ friend/ child but hate something they do/ something they say/ an attitude they have? Of course."

I agree with her very much.  As you may have guessed by some of my other posts, I have very strong disagreements with members of my family.  That does not interfere with my love for them.  She is right to poke holes in my sweeping statement.  

I still contend, however, when using the idea of "hating the sin, but loving the sinner" as a defense for otherwise hurtful indefensible assertions and judgements; the power of the idea breaks down badly.

I love you but....I hate how you love, I hate how you think, I hate how you socially function. I love you but....I think that many of your actions will someday cause the downfall of society and that we will all suffer because of your sin. I love you but....I think that you are going to burn for eternity in hell and that will be justice for you and I worship the deity that is going to send you there.

That's not the same as accepting and loving others despite their faults. When you view integral parts of WHO they are and WHO they love and value as "faults" - you may be able to still "wish them well" and feel emotional toward them and call that love - but that sort of love is almost worse than simply being hostile because it can be more painful. Certainly you can "love" someone despite the fact that you think their relationships are sinful and invalid or that if society respected those relationships that our civilization would collapse, but that judgement is still hurtful. That judgement still causes suffering to the people Kirk Cameron professes to "love". When the message is, "I love you despite the fact that you are an abomination and I don't accept you." - to me, that isn't healthy. That makes "love" a meaningless fetish - just something that you SAY because it feels good to say it."

-An agree-to-disagree, saved-by-grace, I'm-a-sinner-too, I-judge-no one and appeal to civility later-

"My idea is that sometimes saying horrible things in a nice way or to cause suffering in the name of love is worse than in-your-face disrespect. I understand that you are sincere. I understand that the people who tried to "help" homosexuals a generation ago with aversion therapy and electroshock treatment thought that they were helping them live a "normal life". However, just because someone feels as though they are being caring and is sincere in their beliefs and feel compassion - that can still translate into misery for others. Sometimes reality matters. Calling someone's expression of their basic humanity; sharing romantic love with another human being - a "lifestyle choice" is painfully dismissive of the dignity of others and the reality of their experience. Your intentions may be pure - you are acting on your faith that means a great deal to you I know - but the result is the same as the overtly hateful actions that both of us would surely condemn." 

Monday, March 5, 2012

"dirty hippy" revisited

Here are two pictures I created after rereading my "dirty hippy" post.  Feel free to share one or both of them.  I was thinking of the Occupy Movement when I created them, but unfortunately they are relevant to many struggles for social justice (and if you just read "socialism" instead of "social justice" just then, that would be the problem.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The right to silence dissent?

A response to, "I have always supported Kirk Cameron and will continue to do so. I mean no disrespect to those who believe differently than I but just as they have the right to speak out for gay marriage, I have the right to speak against it. I agree 100% with Kirk Cameron. Sorry if anyone is offended, but that "First Amendment" thing applies to us Christians too."

Edits are noted. 

"I'm more offended that you think that people who disagree with you are not allowing you your First Amendment Rights.

I don't know how many times I've pointed out to people WHY I disagree with them, WHY I think their stance denies the human dignity of my friends and family, WHY I think their stance is counter to the ideal of equal protection under the law,....or when I point out how their ideas are flat-out wrong, such as Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort's version of biological evolution - what a "transitional fossil" is, that the modern banana [was created in its current form instead of being] is the product of generations and generations of human agricultural intervention and looks very little like a wild banana, or any other such factual inaccuracy - and then instead of addressing what I have just said, instead of having an honest conversation with me, I am confronted with, "I have First Amendment Rights!!!"  Look, nobody is shutting Kirk Cameron all.  In fact, unlike me and most other people, because he was an actor on an old TV show, he gets on the news - in front of literally millions of people and he says what he wants with no formal repercussions.  He and Ray Comfort have a YouTube channel where they produce videos that communicate their ideas.  They even distributed a bunch of books (such as they were) at one point.  Even if I were rude enough to call him names, TELL him to shut up (with no power behind me), or lament at why anyone would give this guy air-time - I would not be taking away his First Amendment Rights.  Yes, of course the First Amendment applies to Christians.  They are THE most privileged religious group in the United States.  They control a GREAT deal of the wealth.  Very few people who are not Christian are able to gain public office.  There are not one, but multiple television channels that are produced by Christian organizations.  There are many, many lobbying organizations that represent the interests of various Christian sects and religiously motivated stances.  How on earth do you think that your First Amendment Rights are under attack when people are offended by your ideas and point out why they are offended?  Does that make any sense?

You can find examples of areas of the world where there is no Freedom of Speech - where there are blasphemy laws - where you can literally be shot by the legitimate authority of the country for insulting the state religion.  There are places - like Iran - where apostasy is a capital offense.  There are places where, if you speak against the government, you will be "re-educated" and the political opposition lives in fear of death and torture.  Show me an example of where the people being persecuted are in the same group as the one who control[s] the money, the power, and the means of production.  Usually, it's the other way around.  However, I think only in the U.S. are the oppressors so insistent that they are actually the oppressed - when they point out any disturbance in their traditional political authority, social privilege, and dominance as threats to liberty.

How twisted do you think what you just said would seem to those who live under these oppressive regimes - who currently languish in prisons and await brutal execution for simply speaking true to their conscience?

This isn't about Christians being silenced.  They aren't.  If anything, this is about Christians speaking their mind.  It's about Christians and others waking up to the realities of the ingrained injustices within our culture and our law - and attempting to fix it.  Only a few years ago were laws against personal intimate relationships between adults rejected by the Supreme Court, before then, you could be jailed in many states for things that are absolutely nobody's business.  Just a few months ago, several of my friends had to live in fear of being discharged from the military if they happen to mention their girlfriends or boyfriends.  Now, we're attempting to deal with the fact that many families do not have the legal protections and privileges that legal marriage provides.  I understand that you don't see that as a natural progression toward the idea of civil rights and liberty for all.  I do.  I understand that you might see this trend as disturbing as what I see as a progression toward a more just society chips at your white privilege,  your straight privilege, your male privilege and your religious privilege. 

I suspect that you see any sort of dissent to your opinion as an attack on your rights.  That's not true.  You have a right to express your opinion, and I will defend that right as I defend my own right to express my sincere convictions.  However, you do not have the right to get your way."

[He responded calmly and I admitted that was projecting quite a bit.  At some point he brought out Pascal's Wager - and I realized that reading Pascal's Wager feels like this:  Good times.]

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Your Creator is not a shim

After responding to the following meme with, "Misrepresenting science and conflating it with atheism is sort of silly. :)" my brother sent me a message concluding with, "Strict scientists would downgrade evolution of species from a theory to an hypothesis, and also include creation by intelligent being as an hypothesis."

So, I responded (while my children threw oranges at me, played hide-n-seek with my smart phone, and attempted to use me as a ladder to get on the top of the couch.  I made some edits).  My ideas here aren't anything new to anyone who has read my previous blog posts.  However, I expressed these ideas a bit differently.  I think it's important, if you care about such things, to show how religiously motivated anti-science and pseudo-science movements in the U.S. are counter-productive to the interests of religious people.  Attempting to expose the misinformation, or using ridicule, or correcting other people with your own scientific misconceptions - oops; are not always good tactics.

"The scientific method includes two philosophical premises for explanations: Occam's Razor and methodological naturalism. For an explanation to be a "scientific" one, it has to satisfy both of those. Also, the only scientific hypotheses are hypotheses that are falsifiable and testable. Creation by an intelligent being is not testable. There is no empirical test that you can design that would be able to falsify it. So, "science" simply can't say anything about it - one way or the other.

Also, "theory" is different than "hypothesis". Hypotheses are based on theories. You can't "downgrade" or "upgrade" one to the other. That's doesn't make sense. The way that science works is that you construct a theory and then use the theory to form hypotheses, you design experiments or make other systematic observations to test predictions that are based on your hypothesis. If your observations are consistent with your predictions, your observations support your hypothesis and the theory that the hypothesis was based on. If your observations are not consistent with the predictions; then either the hypothesis need revision, or in some cases, the theory is revisited (either in small or large ways). You just repeat this over and over again - and the strength of a theory depends on how well tested it is. We talk about "powerful theories" and "weak theories"; or "well supported theories" and "novel theories". Very seldom does anyone use the phrase "proven theory" because claiming that anything is "proved" discourages testing, which discourages revising and refining theory to make it better.

Evolution of species is a very well-supported theory. Whether or not a deity was involved in the creation of life itself or humans specifically, is something scientists cannot test. For all we know, some powerful deity popped humans into existence with a Word and when that deity created the earth and the universe, the deity just decided (for fun or something) to fashion genetics to point to common ancestry and insert the fossil record just to give evolutionary biologists and anthropologists something to do.

The big bang theory is also a relatively well-supported theory - it is based on observation, not just made up. The more and better observations we are able to make, the better the theory. This theory also says nothing about whether or not a deity was involved in causing space and time to expand into the universe, or involved in matter condensing and forming galaxies, stars, planets, etc as it cooled. For all we know, that low-entropy dot the universe expanded from was a pantheistic deity or an all-powerful deity said a Word that caused the universe to expand into existence. Or, of course, a deity could have blinked the universe into existence in it's current form last Wednesday; and the appearance of the universe expanding was just part of that deity's artistic license as a lark, and when cosmologists attempt to put their finger on the cosmological constant or figure out how that constant changes in time, the deity has a good giggle.

Yes, some atheists point to methodological naturalism as evidence of their stance of philosophical naturalism. I find that problematic because science cannot say word one about non-falsifiable hypotheses which most religions are ripe with. It is compelling to see how powerful methodological naturalism is in creating predictive theory, but that alone does not lead to the conclusion that the knowledge we construct with those methods is the only knowledge. It's also counter to the scientific method to claim that the scientific explanations are "True" with a big "T".

What I find extremely obnoxious, however, is when Creation Scientists attempt to use "science" to support their religious conclusions.
You might as well be claiming that since we don't know everything there is to know about how lightening forms in clouds; that Thor exists and he is the son of Odin. It makes little sense to do that in the first place. If you place God in the gaps of our scientific understanding, you set God up to be crushed as those "gaps" are slowly closed. If you want God to be a scientific hypothesis, you set God up to be falsified and discarded.

So, what you get is a group of people who are making "gaps" where none exist in order to artificially make room for God. Worse, if you lie about what we know and don't know, if you lie about what the scientific explanations actually are (such as claiming that the ultra-low-entropy seed that the universe expanded from is "nothing" so the "big bang" theory violates conservation of energy principle; claiming that no transitional fossils exist; asserting that cosmological theory violates conservation of momentum or that evolutionary biology violates the second law of thermodynamics; or latching onto a math joke as evidence for your stance; or proclaiming the bacterial flagellum or the banana atheist nightmares; or pointing out 20 year old fossil hoaxes and the fabrication of a half-dozen fetal development drawings (that were used to support a theory that has since been discarded) and using those stories to negate all other evidence of modern theory, as if all evolutionary biologists have done for the last 150 years is read the Origin of Species and drink coffee; while strangely refusing to discredit hoaxes that support the Answers in Genesis version of events such as human and dinosaur foot prints walking together in a lake bed) then what you are doing is not only reducing God to an explanation used when there isn't a more evident one; you are reducing God to a lie."

Although atheists seem to be the ones most upset with Creation Science - or at least the ones that get the most media attention - many religious people in the U.S. (as well as pretty much the majority of religious people who haven't been subject to propaganda from our friends responsible for The Wedge Document and Creation Science Museums) do not see these movements as representing their interests.

For example when asked about the Creation and Evolution debate, Pope Benedict XVI answered:

"They are presented as alternatives that exclude each other," the Pope said. "This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such." source 

Ken Miller (a Catholic) and Mark Noll (an Evangelical) have both written books on the subject.  The mantra coming from religious academics, scientists of faith and some religious leaders (such as the Pope) is pretty clear: "Creation Science is not only bad science, it is bad theology."

It's no surprise that religious people will not listen to atheists when it comes to anything - much less science.  Not only are religious people inundated with misinformation about atheism and science both, to the point where some don't even think of atheism and science as separate topics, when they think of atheists the caricature of an angry, hateful, loudmouthed, name-calling rude crude blowhard comes to mind.  In other words, when they think of atheists a picture of this guy pops into their heads:

(Yes, this is a real person.  Yes, I am insulting him.  Yes, I feel justified.  If you don't know why, you really really don't want to know why.)

AronRa (an atheist of youtube fame) understood this, and when choosing moderators for a debate concerning educational policies of the Texas Board of Education, he chose Christians not fellow atheists.  "The reason that my scientific experts promoting evolution had to be Christian, was because I was not going to let this denigrate into debate on whether or not there is a God.  The discussion of whether we teach evolution is not a theological or religious discussion.  There is not a polarity here, and, damn it, these people behind me proved that...but it denigrated anyway."  So, what was the reaction to these religious people who supported the teaching of evolution?  Well, they weren't "true Christians". source

This isn't a fight between "evolutionist atheists" and "creationist theists".  It isn't a fight between philosophical naturalism and super-naturalism.  Those are side-shows.  Creation Science is an assault on fellow Christians, an affront to honesty, and a theological travesty.  It is pitting the Creator against the study of creation; as if an understanding of one denies the other.  

Organizations such as the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, and others; don't agree with one another.  However, if you have the audacity not to reject cosmology and evolutionary biology; to allow our knowledge of science to inform your own beliefs or even just acknowledge that our scientific theories concerning the origin of the universe or the origin of species is good science; to many of them, your faith is invalid.

When I heard about the Wedge Document, I wonder what exactly they wanted to split apart in their effort to combat "scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies."  The analogy refers to using a wedge to create a space - the idea essentially is to thrust science apart to make room for supernatural explanations.

With the act of insisting that Christians must believe their lies about science in order to be considered "true" Christians, they aren't just using a wedge of misrepresentation, pseudo-science and out-and-out lies to create gaps to shove their deity into like a shim; they are causing a theological split, a political split, and a cultural split; they are causing conflict where there doesn't need to be conflict - just ask the citizens of Dover, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I don't care because I do

[Someone in my google+ circles shared a tragic story.  With the story, she made a philosophical/political point.  I regret that my comments were directed too squarely at her.  I'm guilty of it as well.  The question is: Is using specific cases as a jumping-off point for broader conversations a productive way of learning?  Here is what I said - slightly edited.]

I say those things because I was in a peer group on the other side of this sort of sensational titillating tragedy porn. I know what it's like to have a bunch of insensitive vulture "journalists" swoop down, desperately attempting to mold the truth into a compelling narrative, hounding people who have just lost someone they cared about, incessantly asking for interviews from people who want to be left the hell alone, and packaging all the crap they dig up in an easily consumable media blimp-vert. Then everyone with a pre-conceived notion about what causes these things to happen - latches onto whatever bit of information that suits their inevitable outrage. 

I understand the appeal - this situation is really terrible and pretty much everyone has difficulty not focusing on the spectacle of the horrendous and the bizarre; and that's why stories like this are great for advertising dollars.  Media outlets love it.  However, as you pass judgement on all those people that obviously should have waved their magic wand and looked into the future to figure out the right course of action - realize that if you really care about [the subjects you are tying this situation to] you can always read up on those topics and be as proactive as you are expecting everyone else to have been only after they have experienced a tragedy that gets media coverage. 

The advantage of doing academic reading on the subject, is that the people who write those things actually have to follow a set of ethical standards with IRB oversight in order to publish it. The people who write this stuff don't. After the experience that my friends had with their "high-profile" case, I have a different perspective than I otherwise would. I also think there is essentially nothing to learn from these cases, since they are so atypical. If anything, it distorts reality - especially when we are looking at it through a media lens as well as the filter of our own assumptions. 

When people post stuff like this, I choose not to read it. It just makes me upset about the fact that something horrible happened (because apparently I did develop empathy at some point) - and intellectually, I think that discomfort is useless, and the means of bringing that information to me (and everyone else) is often counter-productive to actually making a positive impact on the situation. 

I'm sorry if my post sounded too much like an attack - I just wanted to share my feelings about it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Half of my brain is not missing

The other day I went to a talk about pseudo-science surrounding the immunization public conversation.  The information about immunizations seemed very credible, but the pop-psychology that was thrown around seemed a little questionable at times.  At some point, I openly giggled despite myself (for anyone who knows me, they know this was not subtle).

Before the offending giggle, the speaker was discussing innumeracy.  This is a topic that I care deeply about, and in various times in my career a great deal of my energy is attempting to correct innumeracy.  Someone who is innumerate, simply cannot understand numerical information sufficiently.  An innumerate person is more likely to be misled by or misinterpret statistics, financial products, and scientific studies.  An innumerate person is more likely to use emotional anecdotes as a basis for making decisions than dense research on a topic since they simply don't have the basis to understand (much less evaluate) that research.  The term is sometimes used to mean nearly the same thing as "scientifically illiterate".  However, it literally means that they don't read or write the language known as Mathematics - and a great deal of scientific literature is written in that language.

So, what made me laugh out loud?

The speaker said, "If it weren't for innumerates, we wouldn't have great music..."  He may have said a few other things, but I couldn't hear it over the sound of my own reaction.  Unfortunately, I didn't discuss this with him at the talk at length.  I just let it go, since I had already been rude enough to literally laugh at him, I certainly didn't want to derail his talk completely.

In fact, my explanation to him was pretty stupid.  So, here is what I wanted to say.

"I grew up on Bach.  What the....?  Are you high?"

Just by coincidence, a few days later, I was at a forum for work where a book was passed around about how "right brained" people were going to rule the world.  It is recommended reading that I have not read.  Near the end of the discussions, we were told that someone was concerned that too much money was being spent on out-reach activities surrounding the arts when our organization focuses on the sciences.  An interesting discussion followed, that seemed to affirm our organization's commitment to a well-rounded approach.

With the previous talk still rattling around in my head as well as the idea that "right brained" people will control the world in some sort of dis/utopian future, I sort of lost my shit and said:

"Us science people are not soulless computers!"

And I was informed that the "right brain" and "left brain" thing was just an analogy - and not the pseudo-scientific pile of doo doo that I was accusing it of being. (This reminds me of Deepak Chopra's assertion that his phrase "quantum healing" is just an analogy.)

Fine.  So, is that analogy a good one? - or does it just lead to misunderstanding of the topic and an assumption of undo scientific support for an essentially made-up idea?

Well, would it make sense for me to say that if it weren't for illiterates, the Origin of Species and the Principia would never have been written and the telescope and the Hadron Collider would never have been built?  I mean, if it weren't for illiterates, we would never have been to the moon.

If it weren't for people who had no imagination, no creativity, and no acumen for self-expression; we would know nothing about the bottom of the ocean, we would not know what stars are made of, and we would certainly be cooking on wood stoves and lack refrigerators.

Look, if someone is innumerate, illiterate, lacks social awareness, or is completely ignorant of one or many major fields of study or endeavor that doesn't mean they are not a good person or that they lack value.  Nobody knows it all or can do it all. 

However, if someone is innumerate, illiterate, lacks social awareness, or is completely ignorant of one of more major fields of study or endeavor it also does not mean that they magically gain other skills, knowledge and cognitive abilities to somehow compensate for their deficiencies.  Likewise, because you are a "science person" or a "math person" it doesn't mean you don't care about and are incompetent at art, music, theater, and other human activities, it does not make you socially unaware, uncreative, imagination-less, or even faithless.

That's not how the universe works.