The Book of Job: a short play
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm
			DRAMATIS PERSONAE

JOB: A rich, good, and very pious man.
GOD: A syncretic Middle Eastern deity.
SATAN: Ha-Satan, the Accuser, an adviser to GOD. Not the Devil.
JOB'S FRIENDS: Friends of Job.


			ENTER JOB.

				JOB
I'm so happy. I'm rich, and have ten children, and lots of livestock. And I'm
oh, so very pious.

			EXIT JOB.


			ENTER GOD AND SATAN.

				GOD
Look at Job. He totally loves me.

				SATAN
Bet you he wouldn't love you if his life sucked.

				GOD
I'll take that bet. Go fuck him up, you'll see.

				SATAN
Right ho.

			EXEUNT.


			(SATAN fucks up JOB's life.)


			ENTER JOB.

				JOB
All my livestock and servants are lost and my children died. This sucks. Oh 
well, God gives and God takes. I still love him.

			EXIT JOB.


			ENTER GOD AND SATAN.

				GOD
See? I told you. Pay up.

				SATAN
Fine, fine... Still, we only took his property, like livestock and children.
People only really care about themselves. We didn't really hurt HIM.

				GOD
What are you driving at?

				SATAN
Double or nothing. We fuck him up personally, he'll start hating you.

				GOD
Ha! Sucker. I'll take that. Go do your worst.

			EXEUNT.


			(SATAN afflicts JOB with boils and misery.)


			ENTER JOB.

				JOB
Well, now it REALLY sucks. Still, I love the shit out of that GOD.

			ENTER JOB'S FRIENDS.
			(They sit quietly for a long time.)

				JOB
Woe is me! My life is ruined, and I'm innocent. This sucks.

				JOB'S FRIENDS
You must have done something wrong. You're a nice guy, but still, this must
be GOD punishing you.

				JOB
I've done nothing wrong! My life sucks. I wish I'd never been born. I wish I
could face GOD so I could prove my innocence.

				JOB'S FRIENDS
No, you must have done SOMETHING wrong. This must be GOD punishing you. Can't
be for nothing.

				JOB
Seriously, my life sucks and I'm innocent. If I could face GOD in a court of
law, I'd prove my innocence. I'm being treated unfairly.

				JOB'S FRIENDS
No, it's definitely your fault. GOD is punishing you, and that must mean that
you're a bad person, somehow.

				JOB
Oh, just shut up, you lot. You're not convincing anyone. If I could address
GOD, he'd have to admit that I've done nothing to deserve this.

			ENTER GOD.

				GOD
I'm way stronger than you. Look how mighty I am! Can you beat up all kinds of
wild animals? I can, because I'm so mighty. Were you there when I made things?
Are you as strong as me? Well, are you?

				JOB
Oh, GOD, you're so big and strong and could totally beat me up. I relinquish
any claim on justice from you.

				GOD
That's more like it.

			EXEUNT.


			(GOD gives JOB new livestock and ten
			 replacement children.)


			ENTER JOB.

				JOB
Now I'm happy again. I have twice as many livestock and just as many children
as before. They're not the same children, but whatever, as long as I've got
ten of them, it's all the same.

			EXEUNT.

			FIN.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/261920.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

Free will
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

When people talk about free will, in the context of philosophy, without knowing the terminology of the field, they often seem to mean something like libertarian free will—a position not related (except etymologically) to political libertarianism: the belief that you “could have done otherwise”: your will is properly free if, and only if, having to re-make a prior decision under perfectly identical circumstances, you can choose to do otherwise the second time.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that libertarian free will is logically coherent. Any event—decision or otherwise—is either deterministic or non-deterministic. If it is deterministic, this means that it is causally determined: the state of the universe around me, along with my disposition in the form of knowledge or beliefs, opinions, desires, goals, and so forth, fully determine what I will do. If you were omniscient, you could in principle predict my every action. On the other hand, if the decision is non-deterministic, this means that there is an element of randomness to it: to some degree, my decision is not determined by reality around me, nor by what I think or want. Intuitively, this does not seem to me like “free will”: in fact, as much as the deterministic versions limits freedom, the non-deterministic version limits will.

As far as I can tell, libertarian free will is supposed to occupy some magical middle ground that’s neither deterministic nor non-deterministic. This violates the law of the excluded middle—that is, it requires propositional logic to be wrong! This seems absurd and prima facie wrong, and even if it were true we could ipso facto not reason about it.

Note that, although the terms often arise in free will discussions, I have not hitherto said anything about materialism and dualism. This is because I honestly don’t see that it particularly matters. As it happens, I am a materialist: I think that our minds are what our brains do. But my argument about free will does not depend on this. If you want to suppose that your mind is really some sort of non-material spirit stuff, this does not affect the dilemma between (non-free) determinism and (non-willed) non-determinism. Dualism does not solve the problem of free will, because the problem is not about physical versus non-physical causation, but rather about the logic of causality itself. Christian apologists often argue quite vehemently about this, because metaphysical free will is essential to their theology; but their arguments seem largely to amount to an assault on physical causation without ever addressing the true problem—and as a rule they are quite fond of the laws of logic, so the excluded middle remains a major problem. Put bluntly, they want to absolve their God of responsibility for the things that we do out of “free will” in spite of his supposed omnipotence and omniscience. It does not work.

If a logical exposition exists to get out of this quandary, I've failed to find it and would be fascinated to hear it, but I'm not holding my breath. As far as I can tell, attempts to salvage libertarian free will are less clear-headed philosophy than desperate attempts to justify what we all intuitively feel in the face of what is logically true.


Furthermore, although I can readily see the objections to free will raised by the spectre of determinism, it's not that clear that they have all their apparent force when you look more closely. Normally, I think of a free choice as one where no one is constraining or coercing me. It can be deterministic. It can even be predictable, which is much stronger than merely deterministic: if I strongly prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream, and you know I do, I can still freely choose to have chocolate every time. The fact that you know doesn't constrain me. I could choose vanilla if I wanted to—the fact that, given that I don't want to, I never do, is precisely what makes my decision free, even though it is an explicitly determined choice!

In fact, every good decision is deterministic. If I choose according to my best knowledge and current beliefs, and make the choice that best aligns with my dispositions and desires, in the sense of (so far as my knowledge can tell) being optimal toward achieving my goals, that is a deterministic choice: but if I had some greater metaphysical freedom, it's still the one I’d hope to make. A non-deterministic component can only serve to randomly push me away from this optimal choice. Is that more free? And is it truly willed if it is random?

I’m not terribly excited about the term compatibilism, but I suppose that in effect, I largely am a compatibilist, and my ἀπολογία can be summarised as: The alternative to deterministic free will entails a freedom to randomly act against my own interest, which perverts the word freedom into incoherence. As Dennett might say, that kind of free will worth having is deterministic.

Perhaps the free will problem is best addressed by Ordinary Language Philosophy:

Non-ordinary uses of language are thought to be behind much philosophical theorizing, according to Ordinary Language philosophy: particularly where a theory results in a view that conflicts with what might be ordinarily said of some situation. Such ‘philosophical’ uses of language, on this view, create the very philosophical problems they are employed to solve. This is often because, on the Ordinary Language view, they are not acknowledged as non-ordinary uses, and attempt to be passed-off as simply more precise (or ‘truer’) versions of the ordinary use of some expression – thus suggesting that the ordinary use of some expression is deficient in some way. But according to the Ordinary Language position, non-ordinary uses of expressions simply introduce new uses of expressions.

[Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Maybe the fundamental problem of the free will debate is that it has developed a problematic concept of free will that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have the discussion. In practice, determinism is perfectly compatible with every kind of freedom we care about or can measure; but in philosophy, philosophers and theologians have defined a problematic concept into being. In that case, we can explain it as being a matter of two different things: We do have free will, in the OLP sense, and this is compatible with determinism; but we do not have [libertarian] free-will—which, however, does not actually matter in reality.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/261712.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

The Bible
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

I’ve spent a lot of time recently reading Bart Ehrman, a famous scholar of New Testament studies:

They are all excellent books and I highly recommend them; you can also find lectures and interviews on YouTube. Apart from being simply fascinating as studies of how the mythology of Christianity developed, it has also given me a new perspective on the Bible.

First, let’s acknowledge that the Bible is indisputably an extremely important book, since it underpins so much of Western civilisation; it has greatly impacted the whole world, for better and for worse. It has certainly affected literature. For this reason alone, if nothing else, I think it’s worth being familiar with it. I think I know a fair bit about the Bible—probably more than the average Christian!—but but I have not, in fact, read the whole damned thing; just an expurgated version when I was a child, and various excerpts and verses since. I’ve long thought that I need to, for a variety of reasons.

I have long thought of the Bible as a rather foolish work, in some important ways. After all, it contains lots of internal contradictions, and even presents a set of prima facie incompatible moral frameworks. If it were written by one person, it would have to be somebody profoundly unhinged. This criticism certainly applies to the literalist, inerrantist “word of God” interpretation of the Bible.

But of course I have never bought into that. I may not have known the details of how, say, the New Testament canon was formed over the first few Christian centuries as a result of various warring factions, ‘orthodoxies’, and ‘heresies’; but I knew damned well that the Bible was in fact written by a large number of people over a large number of centuries.

Somehow, though, one perspective never properly occurred to me until Ehrman emphasised it. (I feel a bit stupid and embarrassed to admit that it hadn’t, but honesty above all:) They are different books by different authors. Obvious? Let’s think more closely: It’s not one book written by one large committee of debatable competence, but sixty-six books, by an unknown number of authors (most of them unknown). It’s an anthology. They wrote separately. Their beliefs are related, to be sure, but not identical.

This means that it is not fair to dismiss the whole thing in the same way as though it were a monolith written by one confused person. Rather, the books need to be considered individually if we are to fairly evaluate their literary and moral merit, or lack thereof, as the case may be. The author of Ecclesiastes is not responsible for the brutal, tribal, genocidal violence gloated over by whoever wrote Deuteronomy. Nor can we fairly blame each author for being inconsistent with the others; after all, they didn’t collaborate. Earlier writers couldn’t know about later ones, and later writers may have simply thought that the earlier ones were wrong; or for that matter been unaware of them. They may not have had any idea at all that they would ever be combined in one canon.

This is not least true for the New Testament, where in particular, it sounds like the life of Jesus that ‘Mark’¹ believed in is a story with a good bit of pathos that’s rather diminished by reading it as though it were part of a whole with the other gospels, rather than letting it stand on its own. As Bart Ehrman says:

…The two portrayals of Jesus going to his death in Mark and Luke are radically different, [and] recognizing this radical difference is of utmost importance for understanding what each author is trying to say. The in-shock, silent Jesus of Mark, who is betrayed, denied, abandoned, and mocked by everyone, who wonders at the very end why God himself has forsaken him, simply is not the same as the calm confident Jesus of Luke, who knows God is on his side, who understands what is happening to him, and who knows what will happen to him after it happens to him: he will wake up in paradise.

And so, it’s simply unfair to ‘Mark’ to read his book while pretending that it also says what ‘Luke’ [later] wrote. It robs the story of its pathos and power and makes it worse literature. And this is, after all, literature. I will happily ridicule the whole thing as belief, but the fact that it’s ridiculous to think it’s true does not excuse dismissing it as literature. After all, I love The Lord of the Rings but would hold an extremely low opinion of anyone who believed in hobbits; and in fact it would stand up very poorly as a model of reality.

So I got myself a Bible, specifically the Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, NRSV translation, which comes highly recommended. I expect a very great slog, but I do want to read this thing, and I want to try to approach it, as best I can, with an open mind to its literary qualities. Obviously, the literary qualities of some parts will be atrocious, with mind-numbing series of begats, but at least I will try to be honest about it.

Though I may have to print myself some warning labels, to feel less embarrassed about reading this thing in public.

WARNING: This is a work of fiction. Do NOT TAKE it literally.

¹ I.e. the author of The Gospel According to Mark, whose name may not have been [the Aramaic equivalent of] Mark, traditionally identified as a travelling companion of the apostle Peter. In fact, all four canonical gospels were written anonymously, and Christians a century later attributed them to people close to the inner circle, presumably to lend them authority.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/261436.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

Occam’s Razor is more than a guideline
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate

Occam’s Razor is a famous philosophical device, a pragmatic solution when faced with multiple competing hypotheses: always choose the one that necessitates the fewest additional assumptions.

Wikipedia contains this description:

Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor and in Latin lex parsimoniae, which means 'law of parsimony') is a problem-solving principle devised by William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), who was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian.

The principle can be interpreted as

Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

In science, Occam's razor is used as a heuristic technique (discovery tool) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models, rather than as an arbiter between published models. In the scientific method, Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypothesis to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.

I’d argue, however, that the paragraph cited above actually contains at least the seeds of good reasons why it is more than a mere heuristic device. Consider: There is always an infinite number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypothesis…. This means that for every concrete question, there is an infinite number of answers; one of them is maximally correct, some are plain wrong, and an infinite number fit the data but make unjustified and unparsimonious assumptions. But then, the simplest explanation that fits the data is actually very special, and not just because it’s more testable, but because of that privileged position. It alone accounts for the observed data without adding extraneous assumptions.

This leaves us with a choice, not just on a heuristic and testing level, but on an epistemological level, too: Do we accept only the one explanation permitted by the data yet spared by Occam’s Razor, or do we accept more explanations? If we do not restrict ourselves to only the simplest working possibility, I do not know of any reason why we should not accept all possibilities. Then, since we have an infinite number of possible explanations, whereof only one is maximally correct, the odds of our choosing the best solution are one out of infinity—which is to say, zero. Neglecting parsimony, then, does more harm than merely making it harder to test our hypotheses: it statistically guarantees that we will choose the wrong explanations!

So:

Occam’s Razor provides a rule for choosing a single explanation with strong heuristic properties and avoiding the arbitrary choice of complex solutions that, statistically, are certain to be wrong in detail.


That’s perhaps a bit abstract, so let’s ground it a bit. This actually came up in a discussion on religious epistemology, where I set up something like this: Agnostic (sometimes called “weak”) atheists make a negative existential claim, not based on the existence of positive evidence for non-existence, but based on the lack of positive evidence for existence. Or, in plain language: I’m not an atheist because I have evidence there’s no god; I’m an atheist because there’s no evidence of a god.

But then, runs a certain standard counter-argument, the agnostic atheist is on the same rational footing as the theist. Neither has evidence either directly supporting their position, nor directly refuting the contrary. (Perhaps, this may go on to say, the ideally rational stance is ‘strict’ agnosticism, apparently meaning a refusal to commit to any stance on likelihood.)

This, however, I reject on the basis of a stronger Occam’s Razor.¹ The reason is this: Theists and I agree on the existence of physical reality, each other, rocks, trees, suns, moons, and so on. When we run out of established physical reality, I stop. The theist goes on to add unsupported assumptions—and that’s where the trouble sets in. After all, if you are willing to accept one god without evidence, why not two? Or three? Or a billion? If you accept (though you cannot demonstrate it) that the universe was designed by God, how can you be sure it wasn’t actually designed by aliens pretending to be God? Or wizards posing as aliens pretending to be God? Or Smurfs dressed up as wizards posing as aliens… Well, you see where this goes. I can extend this list into infinity.²

If you are willing to accept any proposition without positive evidence, on the mere basis of inability or to disprove it, or impossibility of so doing, then either you must regard all such propositions as equally valid; or you must have a method of separating your proposition from the infinite number of other propositions with the same property (the property that it hasn’t been disproven, or is not falsifiable); or you are being completely arbitrary and no longer rational. But you can’t have a rational method for separating it, for if you did, it would have to be positive evidence, and you wouldn’t face this problem to begin; so either you are being arbitrary and non-rational, or you must accept them all.

And if you hold that the infinity of possible explanations is valid territory to enter, then your preferred explanation is wrong. How do I justify this assertion? Suppose that each explanation can be laser-etched onto a grain of sand, and we take all possible explanations and let the wind carry them into the sandy desert. This is an infinity of explanations, and as the text is too small to read, you cannot know which is which. With no positive evidence to point to any one explanation, your choice is arbitrary relative to the truth. Maybe one of these explanations is the correct one—but it’s one grain of sand in the desert; and it is an infinite desert. When you bend down and pick out a single grain of sand, I can be confident that you chose the wrong one.

I prefer a more consistent principle of reason, Occam’s Razor: Choose the simplest explanation that fits observations (id est, that isn’t falsified). If our investigation has been thorough enough, it is the right explanation. If not, then it is a good explanation to start from as we investigate further, and our investigation won’t be cluttered up by arbitrary (and almost certainly wrong) assumptions.

That is why, in the absence of existential evidence either positive or negative, assuming the negative is more reasonable than assuming the positive. We should be agnostic in the strict sense of being prepared to admit additional evidence—but that does not mean we should be holding our breath.


¹ This is pretty close to Hitchen’s Razor; in a way, it’s the two razors put together: Occam’s and Hitchens’s. Mine is a two-bladed philosophical razor!

² Or if not infinity, then at least until the text of my post exceeds storage limitations. I wonder if I could write a Haskell program to generate an infinite list of increasingly unparsimonious complications…

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/261308.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

William Lane Craig and his bankrupt ontology
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

I recently watched a video of a debate between famous apologist and Liar for Christ, Dr. William Lane Craig, and well-known cosmologist and theoretical physicist, Dr. Lawrence Krauss. Obviously all my sympathies lay with Dr. Krauss, so it was with some mortification that I watched him apparently just fail to understand Craig’s distinction between epistemic and ontological basis for moral behaviour.

Those terms weren’t used in the parts I saw, but here is how I understand it:

  • An epistemic claim would be of the nature If not for God or revealed truth, we could not know what is morally right or wrong.
  • An ontological claim is different and asserts that God is the basis, not for the knowledge of moral truth, but the existence of moral truth.

In other words, the epistemic claim is concerned with how we can know what is right and wrong, while the ontological claim deals with how there can (supposedly) be a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’.

Craig, for example, claims that everyone is designed to have an innate sense of what is right and wrong, and therefore does not claim that religion is epistemically necessary to assess moral propositions, but does claim that his god is ontologically necessary. This distinction is what Krauss loudly and repeatedly failed to appreciate.

That’s not to say that I think much of the argument itself. The standard objection is a chestnut that’s been around for well over two thousand years and never convincingly resolved: the Euthyphro Dilemma. Its modern formulation when addressing Christian dogma runs something like this?

  • Is God good because he does what is intrinsically good, or because what is good is defined by what God commands?
  • If the former, then there exists an objective moral truth outside of God, who is therefore not ontologically necessary.
  • If the latter, then “God is good” is a circular and hence meaningless claim, and in fact whatever God commanded would by definition be “good”, regardless of whether it resembles what we in actuality think of as good.

Craig is a firm believer in the latter option, and to his dubious credit he carries it all the way by affirming the so-called Divine Command Theory. According to DCT, if God says to kill every man, woman, child, and head of livestock in the land you invade (1 Samuel 15), then it’s right and morally good to do so; and Craig has consistently defended this view: The genocide described in the book of Samuel¹ was morally right. It was morally good to kill all those babies.

Personally, I find this view reprehensible if not downright monstrous. But there are further problems with this view that I don’t see brought up.


If God defines Good, he cannot be trusted

If whatever God wills is (by definition) good, then “good” is arbitrary (as is often pointed out). But this is not merely a problem for ontological grounding. Christian apologists like Craig argue that it’s not arbitrary, because to do other than what is in fact (as we instinctively see it) good is against God’s nature…but so what? On the view that good is defined by God’s will, there’s no real reason to suppose that it cannot change tomorrow. Craig would probably raise a lot of arguments to the effect that God has promised not to, it’s not in his nature, and so on; but how does he know that? Under DCT, it’s not wrong for God to deceive Craig about what his nature is: if he wants to, it’s good by definition. It’s not wrong for him to change his mind about what’s good: if he wants to change his mind, that’s good by definition. In fact, it’s rather Nineteen eighty-four-ish: It is wrong to kill people. It has always been wrong to kill people and always will be. It is good to kill Amalekites…


Craig fails to notice the beam in his own eye

But there’s a deeper yet much simpler problem with Craig’s view, which is this: He says that what God wills is by definition good, and that God has the right to determine this because he created the universe, owns us all, and has the right to do with us as he pleases. But this is a naked assertion. Craig claims that DCT provides an objective view of morality, meaning presumably one with no arbitrary propositions accepted axiomatically, and yet ultimately even his own moral view is arbitrary and axiomatic, too. When Krauss says it’s bad to cause suffering, Craig asks Why?—fair enough, and I fault Krauss for failing to understand this question: I think Craig is right when he implies that Krauss is relying on what amounts to an arbitrary axiom.² But Craig’s own argument is no better, because when he says that God’s will defines what is good, even someone who agrees with him might well ask Why? Craig will say it’s because God created and therefore owns the universe and everyone in it: to this I would retort Why does creating the universe give him the right to do what he wants with it? Craig spends a good deal of time insisting that you cannot get from a factual to a normative statement—you can’t get from an is to an ought—and then he blithely goes and does that very thing in the very same breath.


¹ Fortunately, it most likely never actually happened.

² Philosophically arbitrary—of course, it’s not arbitrary in terms of our neural wiring.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/260914.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

“Why would a woman want to sell her body for money?”
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

Of course, sex workers don’t actually sell their bodies: like everyone else, they sell services. The “selling bodies” line is used simply for shock value and adds an assumption that it’s wrong into the question itself. But still, you might ask, why those, why sell sexual services? I think it's for the same reason that men become fishermen, which is to say that it varies, and may include

  • They are forced into it, as happens with tragic frequency on fishing boats off the coast of East Asia. Literal slavery is unfortunately not dead.
  • They have no other options, though they wish they did. In some places there are no jobs, and even if you loathe the very sight of water, let alone the stink of fish, your choice is between fishing and starving.
  • They have no access to better jobs. If the choice is between fishing and cleaning toilets, you might choose fishing.
  • They see it as just another job. To some people, fishing isn't special. Everybody has to earn a living; why not through fishing?
  • The money tempts them. The king crab fishery is hard and dangerous work, but a captain can make $200k in a season and take the rest of the year off, if they want.
  • They genuinely enjoy the work. Personally I don't get it—I love the sea and enjoy fishing under certain circumstances, but turning it from a private pleasure to a job would make me miserable. But even if it wouldn't suit me, I have no reason to think that there aren't people who love it and cannot get enough, and even if some proponents are just putting on a brave face, it seems foolish and rudely dismissive to insist that someone who claims enjoy it must be lying. Different strokes for different folks.

Personally, I think the poor fishermen kept as slaves deserve help, to be freed and helped to find new means of subsistence, lest they have no option to go back to a now angrier and warier ship owner. Child labour is horrible and should never be tolerated. Those who regard the job as a foul, stinking drudgery should have better opportunities. And obviously all fishermen should enjoy the protection of occupational health and safety laws. But who am I to criticise the others for their choice? It would be foolish to judge their job satisfaction by how I feel about the job, and if some people sneer at the hands-on, blue collar work, that's snobbery and classism we are better off without. If they're treated poorly for their profession, it's the ill-treatment we should stop, not the fishing!

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/260736.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

#NotAllMuslims
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

It is curious how the debate after every Islamist deed of terror, such as the Charlie Hebdo shootings, always results in a flood of Most Muslims aren’t like that!—in a knee-jerk response that reminds me of nothing so much as #NotAllMen. This may strike you as (needlessly) offensive, but before I bring up my caveats, please consider the parallels. (But before you respond angrily, at least do read through to the end.)

  1. It is true that most men aren’t rapists. By analogy, and in fact, it is true that the vast majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists.

  2. It’s true that lots of men are vehemently against sexual assault and harrassment, just as it is true that lots of Muslims are vehemently fighting terrorism.

  3. The truth of the Not All Men reply, however, is secondary to its unhelpful deflectionism—yes it’s true, but the point is that although not all men—indeed, not even a majority of men—are like that, still a minority large enough to matter are, and the fact that it’s a minority does not mean that it isn’t an issue with men—much like, say, breast cancer is an issue for women (even though most women don’t get it and some few men do).

    Or maybe…much as how, although lots of terrorism is committed by non-Muslims, and the majority of Muslims are not involved in or sympathetic to terrorism, still it looks as though the issue is disproportionate, and mere deflection won’t do.

  4. Finally, many people writing today are complaining how unfair it is that Muslims are expected to stand up and proclaim that they’re opposed to extremism and terrorism. But then, strictly speaking it’s hardly fair that I have to speak up against rapists. Yet, I’m told, my silence may be mistaken for tacit approval (and worse yet, daring to treat it with levity—by telling or laughing at rape jokes, for instance—might make the true villains mistake me for a sympathiser). —I said I’m told—but, too, I agree, and extrapolate.

How dare I (you might ask) make this so general, as though Islam worldwide bore responsibility for what a bunch of lunatics in Paris did? You might have a point, were that and similar local incidents all there were to it, or if the appearance of sympathy were a rarity. But we know that’s not really true. The best example I can think of are the riots after the satiric cartoons in the Danish magazine, Jyllands-Posten. In outrage at some Danes’ audacity in portraying their religion (or their pedophile prophet) in an insulting manner, riots were nigh worldwide. It seems that people died in consequence in Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan, Libya, Nigeria, Iraq, and Egypt. Let’s not pretend that there is no connection.

And there is always a predictable outcry that, although some Islamists may act like this, that has no bearing on Islam, or Muslims. #NotAllMuslims! To this I can only say, poppycock! As Jason Rosenhouse said,

I heard someone on television today lament the fact that when a Muslim does something bad, somehow all Muslims are expected to condemn it. This misses the point. The issue isn’t what anyone is expected to do. It’s what moderate Muslims had better do, loudly and unambiguously and with no “buts” at the end, because right now the crazies are the public face of Islam. No one is concluding that something is wrong with modern Islam because two Muslims did a bad thing. The conclusion is based on the chaos and despotism and illiberal attitudes that seem especially rife in the Muslim world.

More broadly, there is this constant insistence that when somebody does something, and says it is because of their religious faith and beliefs, much of the world credits it only conditionally: If what they did was good, then we’ll believe them. But if they did something bad, they must be mistaken or lying: It must be extremism, maybe a cult, or maybe it’s a response to imperialism, colonialism, racism… All of those are real, important, awful factors, but let’s avoid the No True Theist Fallacy.


But…

With that all said, there are some extra factors to keep in mind. I loathe the term “Islamophobia”, as though a hatred of that vile religion were a bad thing. (Do you think it is pristine and blameless? Go forth and read up. The scripture itself is bad enough, quite apart from all the other stuff.) There is a strong implication, which I reject and resent, that being vehemently critical of Islam implies a hatred of Muslims, and further, that it results in—or perhaps based on—racism, in particular against Arabs (presumably, then, combined with ignorance of the fact that there are many white Muslims, although they’re a minority, and that most Muslims aren’t Arabs, and that the single largest Muslim population is found not in the Middle East, but in Indonesia).</a>

On the other hand, there are factors of racism and irrational hatreds far beyond rational loathing of Islam. I’m not very familiar with Charlie Hebdo, but they certainly held a lofty moral high ground compared to their Islamic murderers—but now, a few French compatriots of the victims are working hard to give up that moral high ground by shooting and throwing grenades at mosques (and blowing up some poor restaurateur’s kebab shop). In the US, after the 9/11 terror attacks, I gather the FBI reported a 1,700% increase in hate crimes against Muslims. (And, to be sure, people whom racists mistook for Muslims. I may dislike the conflation of Islamophobia with racism, but if you assault people on the basis that they have brown skin and wear turbans, you’re a racist.)

There, then, is a very important difference between #NotAllMen and #NotAllMuslims: Men deflect in order to avoid self-examination, feelings of recrimination, or criticism. Muslims and their defenders deflect because, well, I agree with most of Rosenhouse’s article cited above, but there is one point where I’m afraid he is too optimistic:

Now, this is the point where the self-righteous types will accuse you of Islamophobia. They will lecture you about blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few.

But no one is doing that, and they know it. Almost no one thinks that all, or most, or even a majority of Muslims have any sympathy for yesterday’s attacks. The problem, though, is that the attitudes underlying the attack are not those of a small, fringe minority. It is willful blindness to pretend otherwise.

I agree with the assertion that it is not a small, fringe minority, but unfortunately, I fear it is not true that Almost no one thinks that…even a majority of Muslims have any sympathy for terrorist attacks. Deplorably—indeed, almost as deplorably as the murderous attacks themselves—it seems there are always people ready to take their vicarious vengeance on the nearest Muslim (or Muslim look-alike).

Here, #NotAllMen would only be comparable if the nighttime streets of our cities were haunted by roving gangs of actually-militant feminists, waylaying and beating men, and occasionally firebombing places that men like to frequent.

And, more, that attitude is probably very pernicious in subtler ways in its milder forms. I think that many Muslim-majority countries are—I’ll say it openly—barbaric. If the law sentences someone to being flogged for blogging critically of Islam, then the legal system and society that permits it are both horrid. But that doesn’t mean I’m ipso facto sympathetic to indiscriminate bombing, or drone strikes killing civilians at numbers I don’t care to guess at. But unfortunately, a sufficiently uncritical acceptance of the vilification of precisely the places and societies I am trying to vilify in a more nuanced manner, lays the groundwork for popular acceptance of—or at the very least, lack of resistance to—military campaigns that do just that. I reject the concept of Islamophobia, but I accept the sad truth that people in the Middle East (who may or may not be Muslims—I suppose most of them are; I don’t suppose it morally matters) die, every day, because people are uniquely unbothered by the idea of bombing Muslim-majority areas.

Under Bush, it was getting awfully tempting to think of this as Christian (or should that be Christianist?) terrorism on a large (and well-funded) scale.


#NotAllMuslims support terrorism. Most of them don’t. Yet it is disproportionately an Islamic problem, and toxic Islam should be excused no more than toxic masculinity. Let’s acknowledge this; let’s avoid euphemism and cowardly deflection and circumvention. At the same time, though, we should not loose sight of, nor fail to emphasise, that the goal here is to speak up—loudly, freely, offensively—and deplore violence, not return it.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/260531.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

“Ignorance is strength”
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

Or, Satirical depictions of religious leaders should be illegal, says Ottawa imam.

This is a fascinating study in the art of getting things completely backwards. It should be mentioned up front that this guy (wrong-headed though he otherwise is) does denounce the terrorist attacks and refer to the terrorists as disturbed individuals—he’s disingenuous but not an apologist for monsters. (Nor did he claim that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists bore the responsibility for their own deaths, unlike some old, white, male Christians¹.) That said:

"Imtiaz Ahmed...said it should be against the law to publish cartoons that depict religious figures in a derogatory way.

“Of course we defend freedom of speech, but it has to be balanced. There has to be a limit. There has to be a code of conduct,” Ahmed said."

“We believe that any kind of vulgar expression about any sacred person of any religion does not constitute the freedom of speech in any way at all.”

Ahmed said there should be limits placed on freedom of speech to prevent the publication of offensive material. He says that seems to be the case for events such as the Holocaust. Members of the public denounce those who say the Holocaust never happened.

It’s worth noting that his position is in fact against free speech. He’s for free speech…unless it’s just too offensive. However, the legal right to free speech is entirely about offensive speech; after all, it’s only once speech has been deemed offensive that anyone wants to silence it, and therefore only offensive speech ever needs, and uses, legal protection. In practice, “free speech except for really offensive speech’ is exactly equivalent to no free speech at all. (Incidentally, his words are incredibly offensive to free speech advocates; but of course he wants special protection only for religious speech, on the basis of…who knows?)

His remark about public denouncement of Holocaust denial is an even more stunning miss, because public denouncement of offensive remarks is precisely what free speech advocates strive for. Legal protection of free expression necessarily includes the protection of responses to said speech. That’s the whole idea of the principle: Let everyone speak their mind, and let those who are in the wrong be defeated by having their ideas exposed, rebutted, and rejected, not by shutting them up and forcing them to nurse their grievances and resentment in private.


¹ Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. Bill Donohue, everybody.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/260143.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

Grander than the Grand Canyon
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

Just got back from a helicopter flight to, over, and landing in the Grand Canyon. I have a bad track record with outings, but this was sublime (though I'm not sure if anyone could tell, as it was sublime in a manner that had me wrapped in my own headspace).

The Grand Canyon itself is, well, famously grand, but focusing so much on it does a great disservice to the surrounding landscape, which defies description. I was about to construct an analogy involving craftsmen and chisels, but to compare it to human art would be to do the country a disservice and to demean it: It was not carved, but magnificently eroded.

I would not have thought that a landscape so arid would be so shaped by waters, but the entire landscape was full of dry water-courses, canyons, and arroyos; there was little water to be seen, but its trace was everywhere. (Maybe this is because it is so arid, and the soil therefore contains much less organic matter to soak and bind up the water, so that when it does rain, it flows unimpeded?) It was interspersed with cliffs and hills and small mountains -- but never a rolling landscape. Rather, craggy ridges and scarps thrust into the air, seeming to defy geology. One hulking ridge was all rusty-red down one side (from, yes, rust), whereas the other crumbled away in a dark umber, nearly black. In places, ridges jutted up at forty-five degree angles, yet were banded with what for all the world looked like the bands of sedimentary layers. Were they sediments, and were those ridges thrust up tectonically? If not, what other process was responsible? In one place a stepped ridge was in at least four different colours, each step running along the ridge distinct -- the first white, the next yellow, then rust, and finally that dark umber.

Nor was it a dead landscape. Arid, yes, and probably that is why it is so geologically dramatic, because it is thus free of not one but two great sources of erosion, rainfall and organic factors; yet though the great part of the ground was bare and dry, still you'd never have been more than a few steps from a cactus, or spiny bush, or other plant (tough, dry, spiny, thick-leaved) that I cannot even categorise. I saw no animal life save flies, a crow, and a few sea-birds on Lake Meade (which barely counts), but there was a ubiquitous buzz of insects. Somehow this appealed to me even more in some ways than a forest (though I do love to walk in a forest), perhaps because it seemed comprehensible. I don't know the few dozen important plant species, nor yet the insects and many lizards and so on, but in this arid and therefore sparser, slower-moving ecosystem, it had an air, it looked as though one might with study figure it out -- not like even a temperate forest, where I wouldn't even care to guess the order of magnitude of the number of important species. This isn't to say that I dislike a forest just because its ecosystem is too far beyond my grasp, but rather that the lure of attainable comprehension was another attraction of the desert.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/259905.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

The No True Theist fallacy
2012. Photo by Hoang Do., At Grapplers Inc.
petter_haggholm

Whenever a religious fringe group rises up in arms, be it Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Christian murderers of abortion providers, or whatever, pundits amass to fight at the steps of the podium to be first to proclaim that what those people do is not motivated by religion, that "real religion" is not like that. This is bizarre, and either dishonest or foolish.

Let's be clear: I don't like Islam, but there are about a billion and a half Muslims out there who aren't terrorists, the vast majority of whom would (I presume) be no more eager to decapitate people than I would. I am not suggesting that, for instance, ISIS aren't a fringe group. Of course they are. (And of course there are lots of non-Muslim Arabs, and the large majority of Muslims aren't Arabs to begin with.) Nor do I think that Islam is inherently more vicious than Christianity, though the latter has been somewhat defanged by the Enlightenment.

That said, it's very odd that these commentators always insist that any evil whatsoever cannot be motivated by religion, as "properly" understood. It's always other factors -- political, historical, cultural. Of course, all that context is always significant, and sometimes religious divisions are secondary (IRA?), but claiming that it's about history and culture instead of religion is an implicit assertion that religion has no influence on culture and history. If someone says that people are never motivated to evil by religion, they're implying that people's beliefs do not influence their behaviour; or perhaps that religious beliefs aren't important enough to be acted upon.

Well, that's what they would be implying, at any rate, were they not busily committing logical fallacies to protect, pardon me, the sacred cow of religion. If someone does something nice and credits “do unto others” or “whatsoever you do unto the least of my brothers”, if Muslims give to charity and say it's because the Quran tells them to, everyone is happy to accept their stated motivation. But the moment they do something bad, it is widely denied that their motivation could possibly be what they say it is, even if they can cite verses in their support. “No religion condones the killing of innocents,” said Obama, apparently unfamiliar with Psalm 137-9, Hosea 13:16, and other pleasant tidbits.

I don't believe in any of this. I believe that when someone claims to act out of religious conviction, the possibility should be entertained that they may be telling the truth, whether the act be good or evil; moreover, that even if an interpretation is a minority view, that doesn't disqualify it from being religious. I believe that many people take their religion seriously and do act on their beliefs, sometimes to great good and sometimes to great evil. Let me repeat that: Religion in general, and certainly the big monotheistic ones, can motivate people just as easily to good and evil. That, precisely, is the problem—not that people of any religion are somehow intrinsically evil, but that people mistake scriptures for moral compasses.

Crossposted from http://haggholm.dreamwidth.org/259839.html. Go there to comment! You can login using OpenID or your LiveJournal account.

[read comments] | [reply] | [login]

?

Log in