Monday, December 31, 2007

Ken's Guide To The Bible: More child-killing

Following up on my last post, I just wanted to point out (if it matters to you at all- it doesn't matter to me, but I'm sure there must be some significance to it) that all those child-killing and womb-ripping-open references I pointed out in the last post were in the Old Testament (pre-Jesus), not in the New Testament (section dealing with Jesus) of the Bible.

Perhaps since the Jews were conquered people during all of the time of the New Testament, they had less opportunity for violence, or, perhaps Jesus found blood-and-guts less palatable to the Jews of his time than the prophets of old did to theirs.

The main significance of any of this, though, is that it's not what you'd expect to find anywhere in the Bible, if you're only listening to promoters of Christianity or Judaism.

For anyone who wants to look them up, or to prove them to disbelieving friends and relatives, here are the Bible verse containing references to women's wombs being ripped open and child-killing:

Women's Wombs Being Ripped Open

II Kings 8:12
II Kings 15:16
Hosea 13:16
Amos 1:13

Children Being Murdered

Numbers 31:17
Deuteronomy 2:34
Deuteronomy 3:6
II Kings 8:12
Psalms 137:9
Isaiah 13:16
Hosea 10:14
Hosea 13:16
Nahum 3:10
Matthew 2:16

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ken's Guide To The Bible: Abortion

If the Bible is a source for the wrongness or repugnance of killing children (I am not claiming it is), it is certainly a source for the opposite position, as well.

When David sleeps with Bathsheba, as a punishment, God kills their innocent baby.

During the Passover story, God kills all the "first-born males" of the Egyptians, including the first-born males of all their animals.

In the back of his book, Ken includes Bible citations to four references to pregnant women being ripped open, and citations to ten references to children being murdered.

Six of the ten instances of children being murdered are with God's approval, including one of the two references to Israelite children being killed!!

All of this is perfectly in keeping with the Bible's depiction of the Old Testament Jews, who are more like any pre-Christian barbarians- Celts, or Goths, or North American Indians, or Aztecs, or Vandals- you may have read about than they are like any Jews you may meet today. A great sum-up is the following quote from Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet, who states, "A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord's work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed!" -Jeremiah 48:10. It's more like something from the movie Conan the Barbarian than what you would expect the Old Testament to be like, if you've never read it.

Ken's Guide To The Bible

I got Ken’s Guide To The Bible the other day, a great book, and one I’ve read before, years ago. Here’s a bit from the intro:

Do people who pray to bleeding statues give you the willies? Do Darwin-bashing school boards and doctor-badgering right-to-lifers make your skin crawl?

Then perhaps you’ll understand what drove me to write Ken’s Guide To The Bible.

As I noted in a comment on The Carpetbagger Report the other day, I am going to be highlighting a few points from this book, if I have reactions to them, in short posts on this blog about every day or so. I think it’s important when religion plays such a role in our politics as it does today and, as Ken Smith’s book so deftly points out, that religion is so commonly misunderstood. But first, some criticism.

The author strikes me as an example of the numerous underachiever liberals who are very smart, so much so that they inevitably get around to the point of realizing they should do something with their lives (Why do so many liberals think something horrible will have happened if there is one more liberal lawyer, doctor, corporation executive, or professor in the world? Whatever it is, plenty of liberals end up as “[Liberal’s name], B.A.,” or worse-- “[Liberal’s name], no B.A.” for a terribly long time before they realize that reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Ayn Rand over and over again, and learning to paint, and dawdling with their meretricious, similarly-minded liberal girlfriend or boyfriend, or whatever it is they are doing, is really not the super-highway to attainment, achievement, and enlightenment). I think after he ended his journeys, and figured out he could write this book, and wrote this book, he may have been a little too impressed with himself for presenting to us a view of the Bible coming from someone with a lot of sense who is not trying to deceive us about anything. That’s not to knock the novelty or the value of the book, however.

Smith’s book is a really good effort, and maybe he was the best person to write a book like this at the time he wrote it, and maybe this was the best thing for him personally to be doing at the time he wrote it. But despite its accessibility, brevity, readability, and remarkably good attempt at comprehensiveness, the “B.A.” after his name on the cover of the book seemed to come back to haunt me as I read the book, like: “Maybe Ken shouldn’t have been so smart-alecky as to tout his B.A. on the cover of the book, because while he has the zeal and discipline to research and point out a bunch of funny, corny, and pointless stuff from the Bible, as well as exposing tons of misconceptions, he doesn’t seem to have the consideration to make it clear where his sincere, empirical expose takes a breather and his comedic talents assume center-stage for a moment, nor does he have the consideration or discipline to examine his own (implicit) arguments with the same scrutiny he applies to those of religious fundamentalists or to the text of the Bible, and indeed he brings the large amount of quality work in his book down a notch by making some unfair implicit arguments.” One quick example is Smith’s examination of St. Paul; Smith’s excerpts (on pp. 128-129, “The REALLY Weird Beliefs of Paul”), which to him are clear-as-day examples of lunacy and fanaticism, all seemed to me to be examples of poetic (as in metaphoric) or off-the-cuff (imprecise) language, and indeed would appear that way to many people. It would be easy to take to task a great many people by always interpreting them absolutely literally, even in contexts where it doesn’t at all make sense to. Another quick example of an imprecise stroke I found was early on in the book, in Smith’s list of things that aren’t in the Bible.


One example of an error I found in his book is an item in the neat list of “Things That Aren’t In The Bible.” Some of the items on the list are things that any reasonably well-educated person should be able to figure out on their own aren’t in the Bible (e.g., Moses breaking the heart of his Pharaoh dad, Black Jesus, Jesus and Mary Magdalene having an affair, or Saint Peter standing at the pearly gates of heaven), but, since most people nowadays stop to think critically about almost nothing they hear (unless it’s related to how their car is running, how their kids are behaving, how their week’s schedule is going to sort out, and so on), it’s probably good to point out the few things he does in his list. But, shortly after reading the list for the first time since getting my new copy of the book, I was checking out Revelations (this is the chapter that is sometimes called Apocalypse) in the Bible I have lying around to see if the kooky things Smith points out from that chapter were at all exaggerated by him (they weren’t). I am sorry to say that I happened to notice that in verse 1 of chapter 10 of Revelations, John relates a vision of “a mighty angel . . . with a halo around his head,” despite Smith’s listing halos as one of the things that aren’t in the Bible in a lengthy bullet-point on page 16 aimed at images and rituals from Catholicism. So, although Smith includes “[a]ny condemnation of abortion” on the list, and (later on in the book) refers us to a bunch of instances in the Bible where either women have their wombs ripped open, children are killed, or children are killed with God’s approval (including Israelite children), I think whenever some religious fundie claims to have or know of some verse from the Bible that supports abortion, you still have to ask him/her to actually provide the verse, and argue about how fair that interpretation of the verse is, instead of just confidently falling back on Smith’s list of things that aren’t in the Bible.


Another feature early on in the book that is helpful is the introduction, which includes the sections “Which Bible?” and “Ken’s Bible-Buying Guide”. Here Smith ostensibly is trying to prove his impartiality by showing you he used more than one Bible in preparing his book, and that he should do this because Bibles differ. But his real purpose is a sly joke, to show you how Bible aficionados finagle the translations to get the Bible to say what they’d like it to say. He also reinforces the main point of the book, that there is a lot of stuff in the Bible you wouldn’t expect is in there, based on the parochial and irrational morality many promoters of Christianity try to sell to us.

Smith compares a verse from Ezekial to show us how the translations differ among the four Bibles he used to prepare his work:

New International Bible: “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were
like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”

. . .

King James Bible: “She dotes upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.”

Good News Bible: “She was filled with lust for oversexed men who had all the lustfullness of donkeys or stallions.”

Which Bible should you read? Based on this, if you have to ask me, it’s the New International Bible. Doesn’t the Good News Bible sound like it was written by some prudish, self-deluded guy who was so disappointed that he found some XXX-stuff in the Bible, that he turned the verse into some kind of racist lash-out, instead of writing what the verse really said? Doesn’t it seem like a racist white guy who was in charge of translating that could have assumed that men with big genitals must be African men, and then (to make the passage less explicit) turned the men into “oversexed men who had all the lustfullness of donkeys or stallions”- another racist characterization? In an intellectual endeavor, especially in one the proponents claim to lay such moment upon, it’s sad to see such dishonesty, if that’s indeed what it is. It’s hard to fathom what else could explain such a discrepancy and creative license as compared to the three other Bibles Smith quotes for the passage.

Incidentally, later in the book, the racism of modern white Bible translators seems to be exposed again. Chasing down the apparently unsubstantiated belief that the queen of Sheba was black, Smith tells us of a passage in Song of Songs (sometimes denominated Canticle of Canticles) where the unnamed bride twice refers to herself as “black.” But other modern versions, writes Smith, “these references have been changed . . . to ‘dark,’ ‘very dark,’ ‘tanned,’ and ‘swarthy.’” While something other than racism could explain it, you never know- after all, black people are not really known as “tanned” or “swarthy,” they are known as black, and if you are disappointed that a Bible character is described as black, and/or you doubt that the character really is supposed to be ethnically African, one thing you might do to blunt that impression among people who read your version of the Bible is to use another word besides black.


In a sarcastic reference to secular or non-Christian-centric praise of Jesus, Smith describes him as “The first man in recorded history to preach selflessness as the key to spirituality (if you ignore Buddha).” This betrays a misunderstanding of the selflessness taught either by Jesus or by the Buddha, which in English may both be expressed by the same word, but in fact are quite different. Jesus’ “selflessness” was about virtuous, benevolent, and empathetic relation to members of one’s own community. The “selflessness” that Jesus taught was about loving your neighbor, and about putting compassion for your fellow man first. Jesus is innovative because while previous religions put a premium on pleasing a selfish or proud God with some material prize placed on an offering place or altar, Jesus made humanistic cooperation with one’s community the premium and tied to the utmost obedience to God. Buddha’s selflessness on the other hand, to put it blandly, has to do with using rationalizations to diminish the immediacy of physical pain or the desires of the ego. It’s coming to know your aspect as part of a total universe, as a grain of sand among grains of sand, instead of as a differentiated, individual personality with wants that only seem to you like the most important things in the world, but are in fact personal realities limited to some extent by the four corners of your own skin or own brain. That’s not to say that Buddhism doesn’t explicitly teach virtue (it does), but Buddhism is not at all about virtue and humanitarianism, it’s about not getting hung up on your psyche and the a priori illusions that were hardwired into the human brain/body by evolution to give us the will to survive, but that are, unfortunately, sometimes a major drag.

This kind of reactionary, immature sophistry reminds me of something that peeves me about when some liberals talk about religion or secular humanism, which I notice a lot. Smith’s line about Jesus and Buddha isn’t at all original, and it serves to minimize Jesus’ contribution on the western heritage. At the same time, liberals who minimize or discount Jesus get their own approach to morality from secular humanism (more immediately via thinkers like Spinoza, Arthur Schopenhauer, or Corliss Lamont) or they at least tout secular humanism. But secular humanism actually comes from Christian humanism. If it wasn’t for Jesus’ humanitarianism, we wouldn’t have the Western liberal individualism of the 1700s’ British writers and philosophers, and you would have never had, for example, the Red Cross and the human rights movement we have today. So people who just discount Jesus followers or believers, and at best, treat them as people we have to patronize because religious tolerance is a value we unfortunately have to respect, just try my patience. If there’s a way for atheists to attack Jesus, I think it’s by suggesting that he and his followers may have been a bunch of clever con-men, creating the conditions for a bunch of people to support them as rabbis and backing up each other’s fake miraculous healings and other miracles. If you want to allege that, go ahead. But the essence of Christian morality includes some pretty noble teachings, and the idea that modern humanism comes not from this source but from other source- a fantasy that smart men just had to reject church or crown-begotten evil in order to come up with the golden jewel of humanism- is just historically wrong and a misunderstanding of the context, I think. The whole of Christian western civilization were not ethical vagabonds or ethical fools, and the Christian mercy and humanitarianism (that existed right alongside well-documented abuses and corruption) history has seen endless examples of can’t be erased just because some modern liberal would like to believe that no one has ever had an admirable sentiment except for them and their buddies. Modern liberals would be a lot ethically/philosophically stronger if they just acknowledged what is praiseworthy about Christianity and the influence it has rightly had on our intellectual tradition instead of trying to come up with a kind of ethics and history that defies it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Too liberal?!?

I normally don't complain or state that things are too liberal, but one thing I just thought of is my pre-high school history / social studies education-- in that we just kept spending time on the pre-Columbian Native American Indians. After a while it got boring, and it convinced me we were never going to learn about any of the stuff that really struck me as interesting (medieval Europe, post-1776 American history, Ancient Greece, WWII, etc.) in history.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More Hillary

Find my defense of Hillary's candidacy here throughout the comments.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What Hillary Clinton Should Say

I don’t think Hillary should keep playing along with the unspoken assumption that First Lady experience across-the-board doesn’t count.

She should just say, “Yeah, I spent 8 years being a First Lady, and I was a politically engaged First Lady who knew a lot about the issues and talked to my husband and all our friends and his staff about policy a lot within the extent of what I had security clearance for. I wasn’t there just to meet with dignitaries and throw tea parties, I was always a person who knew a lot about policy, talked a lot about it, thought a lot about it, stayed informed a lot about it, and continued to do all this throughout my time with Bill in the White House. So, yeah, it counts as experience. I had about as close-up a view of what the president was doing as you can get, barring a few people working with Bill who had more security clearance than me by nature of their jobs in the administration.”

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


What's up with those people who give trick or treaters little tubes of toothpaste or little bottles of spring water on Halloween?

What a slap in the face.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Carpetbagger Report Chronicles

UPDATE: I bonked up this post a little bit when I originally wrote it, but now it's fixed. Feel free to send it to whoever.
~~Swan 2:26 PM Oct. 31, 2007

I ended up drubbing some people in a theological discussion on the Carpetbagger Report last night and today, in comments on this post, and then some dude showed up on the thread and tried to bushwhack me with some moral philosophy stuff, and then I ended up drubbing him, too, in a moral philosophy discussion.

This is all pasted below. I included all the comments on the thread, just so you can see how the discussion developed. I only edited one or two tiny typos for clarity. I think the guy in the moral philosophy discussion (MudFunk) was really unfair and kind of out to make me look bad, because I kept saying "empathy" and "fairness" in my comments (as you'll see), which necessarily imply consideration of others, but he kept accusing me of advocating for a morality that can be based on one person's own opinions devoid of any consideration of others. It wasn't really a fair charge to make against me, even if others in the distant past may have seriously advocated relying on intuition or something to determine right and wrong, to the exclusion of considering the interests of all parties affected by a particular circumstances (sounds kind of cockamamie, though). Anyway, I just spent all of law school thinking of disputes from all sides and reading many, many court opinions that all addressed how a decision in the case would effect the parties involved and people who would in the future be subjected to the rule the court was laying down in the opinion, so it's hardly an option for me to think we can attempt to fashion concepts of right and wrong without reference to the interests of those effected.

In the theology discussion, you'll see a poster name bjobotts (comment 21). To me, it seemed like this person was trying to provoke me and to put me on the horns of a dilemma, between either standing up for my religious beliefs, or disavowing them to make the atheists among liberals who read the Carpetbagger Report feel more comfortable. Of course, I really believe in my religious convictions, so I wasn't about to let people make me sound like I don't. The thing is, I really disagree with a lot of things I have heard about fundies doing or saying over the past few years-- in fact am shocked by many of those things and used to barely believe them-- and think those things are fundamentally at odds with Christianity as I knew it and was taught it growing up. Although I'm a Catholic, I'm not talking about the differences in details of ritual or church structure. I'm talking about the real meat and substance of Christianity. My own personal religious beliefs have become pretty iconoclastic for a Catholic, but a lot of the core stuff hasn't changed for me and what the fundies are doing seems to fly in the face of it. So here I really talked a lot about why what the fundies are doing strikes me as so wrong.

I didn't mean to do it, but in all these comments I wrote a really neat and rare, pretty extensive peak into my own personal philosophy and religious beliefs. This says a lot about what I believe; or at least, it should do so to people who have the philosophical and religious background necessary to understand what I am talking about. But, if you'd like me to clarify anything for you and you couldn't get a clear description by looking it up online, you can ask me about it in comments. --Swan

1. On October 29th, 2007 at 5:23 pm, Steve said:
A bit off-topic, but it’s applicable, given the Mittens comment:

Mitt Romney’s “ad” is a subterfuge to convince Das Base to look in any direction other than the one that identifies his faith’s “prophet” as a swindling, two-faced fraud. By the way—did you know that “Mr. Smith”—the guy that “founded” Mitt Romney’s “church” (read: cult)—was convicted in Ohio for bank fraud? He actually established an “anti-Bank” in the Chardon/Kirtland area, and swindled a good many people of their hard-earned cash.

The “culture of corruption” has ancestors, it would seem…and you folks thought it was a contemporary creation….

2. On October 29th, 2007 at 5:24 pm, Brian Rom said:
Krugman’s column is highly derivative of one published a few days ago by Fareed Zakaria in the 10/29 edition of Newsweek magazine. Could it be that Krugman, a former Enron adviser, has learned some of the less savory lessons from those who eventually brought that company down?

3. On October 29th, 2007 at 5:53 pm, JTK said:

The term [Islamofascism]came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t.

I believe it is also a form of deliberate projection intended to neutralize the term “Fascism” so that it cannot be used for its intended purpose: to define the likes of Neocons.

4. On October 29th, 2007 at 5:54 pm, Swan said:
in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

I did not know that.

Just to be clear, Al Qaeda is a real threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as fear itself

Too true.

Steve at 1, in my household we have about the same feeling about Mormonism as we do about Scientology, because my brother has read up on them and knows all the details of the church’s history. I’ve kind of felt like not cracking at him for it, though, because for some reason it’s seemed to me like we shouldn’t “go there”- kind of a half-guess that it’s the kind of thing the righties would like us to try so they can just paint us as religious intolerants in the eyes of people who won’t really know better, and won’t look any of it up and will just have the Repub pundick’s sound bite to go on. Can’t say I’m really resolute about this, I just thought I’d mention it so the concern has been aired by someone before we start talking about Mitt’s religion all the time.

5. On October 29th, 2007 at 6:05 pm, meander said:
A great column from Krugman, but I disagree slightly with this: “…the unreasoning fear that has taken over one of America’s two great political parties.”

I’d argue that the unreasoning fear has taken over both political parties. The GOP lives in fear of their fantasy threat and the Democrats live in fear of the GOP calling them insufficiently afraid of the fantasy threat.

6. On October 29th, 2007 at 6:05 pm, DragonScholar said:
The danger that’s immediately obvious is that people who think that there’s some WWII-level threat are either actually that ignorant, or that cynically manipulative.

However, there’s another threat: the results of the constant whipping up of fear.

The Base is enjoying the constant fear, the terror, and the sense that the 101st Chairborne is in some kind of great struggle behind their keyboard. I honestly think they enjoy the idea of some kind of great conflict, some clash - it validates their ideas, makes them feel macho, and so far they haven’t felt much of the pain of their foolish notions.

However, at some point after whipping up The Beast, you have to keep The Beast satisfied. If you talk tough on Iran and keep talking tough can you, as a politician, really back down from confrontation? At some point you have to take tough or tougher action - or look like a wimp to your base and have that exploited by your political opponents who want the support of The Beast.

Or in short, I am concerned that some of these people will start a war because they feel they can’t let their “audience” down.

7. On October 29th, 2007 at 6:09 pm, Swan said:
Believing that God did things like create the world in literally 7 days, literally create a garden of eden, and hand down a prescription to humans against abortion and using birth control, is not much more wacky than believing in UFO aliens. But if you’re going to pick out a religion, I think you might as well try to pick out one of the less wasky ones… Even Hinduism isn’t as wacky, upon close inspection, as you might at first think from seeing the depictions of an elephant-headed god, and such.

8. On October 29th, 2007 at 6:37 pm, JKap said:
How will we ever win the Global War on a Psychological State with a libr’ul media like this?

9. On October 29th, 2007 at 6:43 pm, Reap said:
Krugman, Living In His Own World
Paul Krugman is not reality-based on the subject of the Iran:

…Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

Quick, alert the 9/11 Commisison - they will want to revise this part of their report:

Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.120

A nuclear Iran would be a “bad thing” …no wonder this guy has Ivy League tenure. I wonder if he was more on the ball back when he was an Enron advisor.

10. On October 29th, 2007 at 7:21 pm, Dale said:
Islam is quite simply the long-time “enemy” of Christianity. Just like Lieberman doesn’t care about the US, his only concern is Israel, the Christians don’t care about America they only care about their religious wars.

11. On October 29th, 2007 at 7:24 pm, T Hurlbutt said:
On October 29th, 2007 at 5:54 pm, Swan said:
“…in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

I did not know that.”

A lot of people like to forget that fact, or never knew it because Bush & co. find it inconvenient to remember it.

Afganistan and Iran share a long border. The Shia Iranians and the radical Sunni Taliban (and al-Qaeda) are sworn enemies. Iran did a nice job slamming shut the Taliban’s western escape routes in 2001. Does anyone remember if Iranian troops actually crossed the border? The city of Herat is the second or third largest in Afganistan and is near the Iranian border. Iran cares what happens there. Our interests and Iran’s were much the same in 2001, and we worked together. The population of Iran has more in common with the West than any other Mideast state other then Isreal, although we’ve done much to alianate them. And, of course, they alienated us in 1979. There were a lot of possibilities to improve relations after Afganistan and before Iraq, but the Bush administration had other goals.

12. On October 29th, 2007 at 7:28 pm, T Hurlbutt said:

Zakaia just got done shredding Podhoretz on Lehrer.

13. On October 29th, 2007 at 7:43 pm, Swan said:
I guess the thing about Mormonism is there are lots of Mormons who would vote Democrat, so we don’t want ‘I am skeptical about your particular religion‘ to become something that’s associated with us, but, for a lot of Republicans, it would be a turn-off for them if they knew more about Mormonism.

I guess it’s a kind of “damned if we do” thing, even if we feel like we’re telling the truth. But that’s different from condemning abuses within the religion (same as we’d do with sex abuse in Catholicism)- like abuses of the polygamy institution (which of course, is not an openly accepted part of mainstream Mormonism anymore)- which I’m sure Mitt would never openly defend, anyway.

Sorry to dwell from the topic, CB, but I thought it was something worth exploring, since the “can of worms” was open.

14. On October 29th, 2007 at 7:58 pm, George Arndt said:
This is similar to the argument that Fareed Zakaria made in Newsweek. We spend over 4 hundred Billion on defense. Iran spends just over a billion. If it were the other way around, we would be in a heap of trouble!

15. On October 29th, 2007 at 8:44 pm, President Lindsay said:
Even Hinduism isn’t as wacky, upon close inspection, as you might at first think from seeing the depictions of an elephant-headed god, and such.

Oh no? Even if that elephant-headed god married a banana plant? (Look it up, I’m not jivin’.) Pretty much every mainstream religion is whacky. To weigh degrees of whackiness seems a bit, well… whacky.

16. On October 29th, 2007 at 9:15 pm, Swan said:
Lindsay, the reason why I say it’s not wacky is, at least for a very significant fraction of Hindus, the stories of Hindu mythology are meant to be taken a lot less literally and are more meant to convey underlying tenets of Hinduism’s explanation of the universe and the human condition– really like allegory to explain philosophical points.

It’s not like in Christianity, where after a lot of people tell you the Bible stories the attitude they take towards it is, “Look, God created a perfect garden where he put the first man and the first woman, and there a snake talked to the man and the woman, and if you don’t believe all of this is literally true, then you are a bad person and are going to hell.” Hindus, I get the impression, would more overtly focus less on your believing every detail, and more on your getting the underlying principles of the story- the moral of the story. With a lot of Christians, I can’t even believe the “snake” in the story is just a symbol for evil thoughts or an evil being, and that it’s not a zoological creature or a supernatural creature that resembles a snake. I can’t say, “I believe most of the story may be true, but how do we know their names were Adam and Eve, or that God didn’t put one more person in the garden with them in the beginning? I’m just not convinced the story definitely gets all the major details exactly correct.” If you start wanting to introduce that kind of story, these people will start thinking you are not a good Christian, and they will put the form of the story ahead of its substance, because somewhere they got the idea in their head that the details in the story are the most important thing about it, nothing else (I would call this idol-worship, worshipping the golden calf, by the way– not what they Hindus do with their elephant-headed god).

That’s why I say that relative to other things, Hinduism isn’t that wacky.

17. On October 29th, 2007 at 9:17 pm, Swan said:
If you start wanting to introduce that kind of story, these people will start thinking you are not a good Christian,

Should have been:

If you start wanting to introduce that kind of leeway into the story,

18. On October 29th, 2007 at 9:19 pm, Swan said:
So yeah, I think Fundamentalists are a bunch of infidels who don’t really believe in Jesus. They worship a Jesus-like-thing, an appearance of Jesus that looks like Jesus, but isn’t really him.

19. On October 29th, 2007 at 9:30 pm, Swan said:
I mean, there’s always a point with Hinduism– it’s never “then the elephant god married the banana plant, just because that’s the kind of weird shit that happens in pagan religions.” The banana plant stands for something, what happens in the story stands for something, and it all has a lesson about humanity or about the nature of the universe.

That’s what I’m really trying to get across.

20. On October 29th, 2007 at 9:42 pm, CalD said:
Hey Reap,

You forgot to include the conclusion of the 9/11 commission regarding the passage you cited (in comment #9, above) — i.e., that they found no evidence that Iran (or Hezbollah) ever had any foreknowledge of plans for the 9/11 attacks. In fact they regarded it as unlikely that the any of those Al Qaida people knew any specific details of the operation themselves at the time when they passed through Iraq.

21. On October 29th, 2007 at 11:56 pm, bjobotts said:
***swan comment *** Now you’re acting like the centrist dems, so afraid you are going to make a christian mad by not believing what they tell you you have to believe and you are walking on eggshells at the prospect of telling them exactly what you think…that it’s stupid and not to be taken literally. So afraid of being condemned or god forbid, accused of not being a Christian (soft on terrorism or god forbid, emboldening the enemy). Yet you can see from your very comments what you really think of this line of bull(the garden of eden, the Iraq occupation)…see what I mean. Not believing that fantasy crap makes you rational not a heretic. Not believing in this illegal war does not make you unpatriotic…it makes you a real patriot. Not believing in this literal translation even when it is used as a club to belittle you does not make you ‘unChristian’, it makes you credible. Stand up and tell these people they are full of it, screw it if they can’t face reality.

22. On October 30th, 2007 at 12:24 am, Swan said:
Another thing that was more forefront in my mind when I said in my original comment that Hinduism was not as wacky as some might think at first was the fact that the Hindu ‘pantheon’ really isn’t one, like say, the ancient Greek pagan pantheon, because there is a commonly-held belief in Hinduism that the Hindu deities are in fact ‘aspects’ of a monolithic god, just like we have in Christianity/Judaism/Islam. Albeit, the total Hindu god is, if I recall correctly, more a force of nature than the personal god we have in Christianity (Or really, that some Christians insist on describing God as without a clear source for distinguishing and saying that God must ‘be’ one type of thing, a ‘personal’ entity, and ‘not’ another, an impersonal force, even though God is supposed to be greater than us and incomprehensible to us in His nature. Go figure.). But again, just like we have in Christianity- aspects of a total God, just like we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So it’s not even really polytheism, in a strict sense, or at least it’s not for many Hindus.


Whoa, watch out folks! The troll-bot is malfunctioning… I think it’s short-circuiting…

You can try to tell yourselves I’m not a Christian all you want (but everybody knows I am), and you can tell yourselves all you want that you’re Christians because in your view Christianity requires literal belief in a bunch of details in Bible stories, and you can tell yourselves all you want that there’s no approach to Christianity besides your own (invalid) one. It’s pretty clear from my other comments that I’m calling you not real Christians– that’s what I said, and you’ve got to live with it, and I’ve got a greay reason for saying it. If you’re so Christian, why don’t you try living by Christ’s teachings, instead of by memorizing how many fish he held in his hand at such-and-such speech, or what the names of his apostles were? You worship empty words, not teachings. You worship a tin man, a tin god. Instead of acknowledging that God gave you a divine, innate, moral sense that’s part of your character as a human being and should be used to figure out right and wrong, you reject the practice and investigation of moral philosophy and ethics because it’s too hard, and fool yourself into thinking you can lead a Christ-centered life by looking for easy answers in a book. Those easy answers you try to get from a book or a ‘wise’ man are no more valid than if you got them from some random self-help book off a shelf in a bookstore, unless you really think about them and investigate them. Biblical sayings and teachings have loads of context that make them completely unfit for trying to apply ad hoc without any reflection to your modern American life that is far removed from the middle east of thousands of years ago. You are fools if you think you are worshipping God when you worship “the world was created in 7 days” and you are fools or charlatans when you try to get me to worship the same thing. God doesn’t care anymore for “the world was created in 7 days” (it’s been proved it wasn’t) than He does for any random fly that buzzes around and lasy to rest on a turd. The belief that belief in details of the Bible as literally true is required for true faith is an incorrect, conceited and Satanic belief that undermines Christians and dissolves the Christian community.

23. On October 30th, 2007 at 12:25 am, 2Manchu said:
How is it that our nuclear capability, which kept the Soviets in check for 40 years, would be somehow incapable of deterring a nuclear Iran?

24. On October 30th, 2007 at 2:29 am, Dismayed Liberal said:

Because they’re brown-skinned irrational “Suiciders” of course, who would gladly invite their own destruction so long as they got to see Israel and/or America destroyed first.

Next question.

25. On October 30th, 2007 at 3:50 am, CalD said:
You know, I had an Indian guy working for me last year — a truly brilliant young man with a EE degree from a good school, who could do a half a page of calculus in his head with about as much apparent effort as it takes me to order a pizza — and I was really astounded by how really literally he seemed to take a lot of Hindu mythology. In fact I think I might have gotten him thinking more skeptically about some of that stuff for the first time when I said to him one day that for a very smart, educated and well traveled young man he sure seemed to carry around a lot of superstitions with him.

Anyway, I would have to conclude from this experience that at least some otherwise intelligent Hindu’s do in fact literally believe some of the crazier sounding aspects of their mythology every bit as much as many otherwise sane Christians literally believe, say, the one about the young couple running around naked in someone’s botanical gardens who required the help of a talking snake and a magic apple to figure out what their naughty bits were good for… Call me a cynic and a godless heathen if you like (you’d be right on both counts) but I have to think that a) they probably would have figured that out on their own given time and b) anyone as all-seeing as god really should have seen that one coming.

26. On October 30th, 2007 at 4:34 am, President Lindsay said:
Swan, there are literally millions upon millions of Hindus who undoubtedly take their stories every bit as literally as many fundies take Biblical stories. And while I can appreciate your non-literalism when it comes to Christianity, your statements containing that “God gave you a divine, innate, moral sense…” and “incorrect, conceited and Satanic belief” are themselves conceited. For what makes you think you know that moral sense comes from God? And Satanic? Please! On the one hand you purport to come across as a voice of reasonable Christianity, yet you blithely assert your beliefs as if there is no question about them. Don’t you see the irony?

Rationalism and logic aren’t compatible with religious faith. If you feel like they are, you’ve got one foot in each of two worlds. How one can be satisfied with such a disjointed and unsynthesized world view is beyond me, though of course I see it in “religious” people all the time. Like the creationist anti-evolutionists who use antibiotics. It’s all about intellectual honesty. “Nothing is at last sacred,” wrote Emerson, “but the integrity of your own mind.”

When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
- Sir Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-1971)

27. On October 30th, 2007 at 6:03 am, orange is not the answer said:
The point, of course, isn’t to argue that America doesn’t have dangerous enemies; we do.

Actually, no, you don’t. Al Qaeda is dangerous to some Americans, but the threat it poses to America the nation is actually nil; It has not the remotest chance of destroying America, nor taking it over or controlling it, nor even of killing sufficient citizens to cow America at all.

Nor is Iran a dangerous enemy to America (altho I imagine it would like to be).

28. On October 30th, 2007 at 9:11 am, Swan said:
P.L. wrote: Swan, there are literally millions upon millions of Hindus who undoubtedly take their stories every bit as literally as many fundies take Biblical stories.

But there are a hell of a lot of Hindus. Do you mean 10%, or 20%, or what? I’d like to hear a source for your claim. From what I heard, about 50% of Hindus are more like literalists, and about 50% are more like Buddhists. But that wasn’t even my main point!! My point was that Hindus won’t act like jackasses, and act like belief in details of their myths are necessary to not be an evil person, and to attain salvation. A lot of Hindus and people from other eastern religions, when exposed to the west, will start attending church and worshipping Jesus right along with their other beliefs, without even abandoning the old beliefs. I don’t understand what your point is / why you’re fighting this.

Your statements containing that “God gave you a divine, innate, moral sense…” and “incorrect, conceited and Satanic belief” are themselves conceited.

I would say the burden’s on you. Prove that I’m not right. Doesn’t your conscience give you an appreciation of the teachings of Christ? Don’t you experience certain emotions when you hear the stories of his life read and hear about his examples? Where fo you think that feeling comes from? Don’t you think God gave you the capacity for it so you could appreciate good works? And if you can feel it on your own, don’t you think it’s meant to be used and applied and explored absent the express teachings of a preacher or a Bible? Seems to me the fundies seem to think they’re on a god-given mission to find all the whores and chastise them. I’d like to see where they got the license from the bible to do that. Seems Jesus’ example was just the opposite- care about and respect people even if they’re lowly, even if they’re degraded, even if they’re the sinners. You guys get it from things like Revelations, I guess, putting the words of “apostles” on a par with Jesus, just so you can have the easy answer of “Well, it’s in the book, so it all has to be right. It all has to be consistent somehow.” The answer of concocting prescriptions and commands that are contrary to Jesus’ is a conceited blasphemy and Satanic. Acceptance of Jesus is humble, good, and true Christianity. The opposite is blind wickedness.

And no, I don’t see the “irony.” Every time a person has beliefs that they believe in it is not therefore ironic.

Rationalism and logic aren’t compatible with religious faith.

This is insane. You take a very particular belief, that everything contained in the bible has to be true, and made consistent somehow, and you define that as religious faith, and from that you determine that rationalism and logic have to be inconsistent with religious faith. But rationalism and logic don’t necessarily lead to the belief that God doesn’t exist, that there is no morality, or that morality doesn’t count. It’s just cheap cowards who hear an argument for atheism or moral relativity and then run from it instead of confronting it and thinking about it for a few weeks, who assume that they have to run to blind faith instead of using their obviously God-given reason or else they will inevitably end in wickedness. You’re the one who should question your own assumptions if you blieve that everything contained in the bible has to be true, and made consistent somehow, and you define that as religious faith, and from that you determine that rationalism and logic have to be inconsistent with religious faith. You should question where you got that idea from, and where the person who told you it got it from, and you shouldn’t just supply yourself with winning answers so you can win, like “I guess God put it all in our heads.” Funny how that ends up having you working for people who tell you to do things that are directly contrary to Jesus teachings. All they have to do is put a few lures and distractions in front of your eyes, and in s hort time you’re working for Satan.

My worldview is perfectly compatible with itself and perfectly consistent. But to get to it, I had to struggle, to go through periods of doubt and searching instead of just supplying myself with easy, made-up answers. I had to suffer like Job and like Christ (a road all of you conveniently skip, without ever wondering about how you were able to skip it). A lot of it includes understanding that sometimes there will be things I don’t understand. That’s humble- that’s not conceited or assuming things I don’t know at all.

People like you blandly assert that other people are inconsistent just to make yourselves feel like you are better and righter than them, without ever really thinking about it or trying to back it up. You’re not nearly as sure as you think you are- you’re about as sure as a person who learned everything he confidentty believes in from ad slogans on posters and bumper-stickers.

29. On October 30th, 2007 at 9:20 am, Swan said:
Why would God tell you to love, and to do unto others, if he didn’t give you the capacity to do that and figure out what it entails? Instead he would have said “Listen to what your preacher/husband/father says is loving another.” He didn’t. Yes, it creates capacity for disagreement. But there doesn’t have to be agreement or easy answers all the time. God constantly tests us, just as he tested so many in the Bible, and the world he’s created for us is not an easy world, it’s a world where their has to be struggle. Just so you can feel there is one easy, right answer all the time isn’t a reason to arbitrarily and quickly accept one preacher’s or one Bible translation’s words over another. There are better standards to judge it by. If people were really trying to follow what speaks to them when they sincerely ask themselves to love one another and to do unto others, instead of following other things, then we’d have a lot less disagreement a lot quicker and people would start figuring it all out a lot quicker. Yes, even if you are trying to do that, you can’t get along with everybody, all the time, at least not nowadays- but we’ll be heading in the right direction, towards a world where people one day would be able to trust almost anybody and get along most of the time. God gave you practical teachings to “bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.” You’re all still waiting for a bunch of glamorous, distracting sci-fi shit to happen, to fix the universe by itself for you instead, and watch- you’re going to be waiting your whole enitre life, no matter how many Biblical or Nostradamus or snakehandler “prophecies” you hear of or read.

30. On October 30th, 2007 at 9:24 am, Swan said:
Until I wrote stuff like this, probably half of you fundies thought I was incapable of writing stuff like this just because I’m from Jersey, and that we don’t learn about God here, or not the way you do. What else are you going to learn isn’t true next? Whatever it is, it might be something you just as convincedly and chauvinistically believed was true as you believed that.

31. On October 30th, 2007 at 9:28 am, MudFunk said:
God gave you a divine, innate, moral sense that’s part of your character as a human being and should be used to figure out right and wrong

Well, Swan, at least you’ve progressed into the Nineteenth Century. Maybe someday your “investigation of moral philosophy” will actually bring you up to date.

32. On October 30th, 2007 at 9:40 am, MudFunk said:
Why would God tell you to love, and to do unto others, if he didn’t give you the capacity to do that and figure out what it entails?

Seriously, Swan, step away from the Frances Hutcheson. Have Jane Addams’ Democracy and Social Ethics shipped to you overnight, and report back when you’ve finished it. At the point, we’ll recommend further reading based on your progress.

33. On October 30th, 2007 at 10:25 am, Swan said:
MudFunk, why don’t you explain your point so we can all have the benefit of discussing it– those of us who are familiar with the writers you are talking about, and those of us who aren’t.

If you’re challenging my assertion that “God gave you…” then we have to discuss God, and if you’re challenging my implicit assertion that a moral sense can be used to determine how to act morally, we have to discuss my beliefs about the moral-decision making process. There’s no running from any of this.

In your second comment, you sound like you might be bringing yourself inevitably to the conclusion that there are some people who just can’t recognize love, or can’t recognize trying to do things that benefit others, or that benefit the community. Absent a few “outliers”- the psychotics and such (who don’t count for what we’re talking about)- that’s a very bold conclusion to be making, and I don’t think you really want to be going there. You should draw out your argument a little more, if there’s anything more to it than that. Again, and as think you’ve figured out by now, I wouldn’t say that sentiments are the only thing we use to figure out right and wrong, but that we use reason, too. But, if you’d concluded otherwise, you were making an unfair and unjustified conclusion about what I wrote, anyway, which was written in a theological context to address theological concerns, and not written to discuss the angles secular ethicists are concerned with looking at the problem from.

34. On October 30th, 2007 at 10:45 am, JTK said:

ointa: Al Qaeda is dangerous to some Americans, but the threat it poses to America the nation is actually nil; It has not the remotest chance of destroying America, nor taking it over or controlling it, nor even of killing sufficient citizens to cow America at all.

Well, we’ve kinda proven that to be false. The brilliance of the attacks on 9/11 is that we would sew the seeds of our own destruction in its aftermath. We seem to be headed for a complete collapse because of our irrational fear. They knew this fear would open up a vacuum that would be immediately filled by those willing to prey on it to attain power.

Look around you. Our Democracy is completely broken, we have no allies anymore, the nation is on the verge of bankruptcy, we’re more divided than we’ve been since the Civil War, we’re being spied on, and on and on.

This is how David killed Goliath (if you’ll pardon the allegory).

35. On October 30th, 2007 at 11:23 am, MudFunk said:
Swan, the Scottish Common Sense argument, which your own arguments echo very closely, is that reason and sentiment are internal and authored by divinity, giving us a morally pure foundation for how we interact with others. If we each simply follow this “common sense” without falling under the influence of various corruptions (bad preachers, in your argument) then everything will be fine. It doesn’t take much to recognize this as a fundamentally undemocratic philosophy; I don’t have to attend to the experiences and viewpoints of others because I have an internal and infallible guide for how I think and feel. Jane Addams provided a brilliant rebuttal to such arguments through her theory of social ethics, and current theorists of radical democracy, like Nancy Fraser, have carried the social ethics tradition into the 21st century.

As to love: The contours of what we recognize as love are socially constructed. Yes, we are fundamentally social creatures and need to care for each other; but how we experience such care varies from place to place and time to time. What you call love is very different from someone under different social conditions would call love; so to reference some universal concept of love as the basis of good social policy is high-handed. To bring love into social policy requires the very difficult and never-ending process of negotiating between our very different experiences and understandings of love.

From Democracy and Social Ethics: “We have learned to say that the good must be extended to all of society before it can be held secure by any one person or any one class; but we have not yet learned to add to that statement, that unless all men and all classes contribute to a good [that is, to our understanding of what constitutes a good], we cannot even be sure that it is worth having.”

36. On October 30th, 2007 at 11:27 am, Swan said:
To answer MudFunk’s comments a little more fully (and I’ve got to just do the best I can, since I haven’t read the authors MF is talking about, and since MudFunk’s comments were vague so they could make me sound like I’m an idiot without actually giving me a chance to fight back), the best way to describe my philosophy in a nutshell, although this is in a slapdash way, and probably necessarily leaves out reference to a lot fo significant parts of my belief, is, I’m like a John Rawls who is informed by evolutionary theory. I believe we have an innate, a priori sense of fairness, good, kindness and empathy for others (this provides the basis for things Rawls postulates to actually work out and be true in fact) that arose from centuries of selection, and having to live among one another. If we didn’t develop these feelings, we’d always be in anarachy, and never would have achieved much as a species, and never would have had much of a population. For me, this is a manifestation of the will of God, although for others, it doesn’t have to be, and their beliefs would still be consistent and they could still have morality and a basis for understanding it and recoginizing it for others and a basis for understanding what consitutes their moral sense and why it provides the kind of answers to problems that it seems to. Some may object, ‘hey, I know such-and-such a guy, and he’s a human, and he’s a real jerk’ but the point isn’t that everyone be uniform all their moral sense. My point is actually proven by your ‘jerk’s’ knowing he’s screwing you over, and feeling a little background guilt over it, or knowing it’s not fair (but that he wants to do it anyway), or knowing that he’s a shady guy. Individual variations in behavior have more to do with individual more detailed variations in genetics, or variations in how we’re raised. But my point is proved- and what I am talking about is demonstrated by- the sufficient commonality of sentiment for people to be able to get along and form good answers on fairness and on right and wrong that allow us to get along as a society just by people having a sufficient sense to get to those thingsl, that exists basically wherever humans are found, throughout our history, and that doesn’t change significantly; wherever there are human populations, there is right and wrong, there is fair and unfair, there are proscriptions against murder and lying and cheating. And that’s more than just a technology- people feel it in their gut, and they have to be taught to be evil, and when they experience a lot fo wickedness it warps them, and is bad for their mental, psychological health and happiness and well-being.

I would get into John Rawls to give a general explanation of him so I’m not doing the same thing MudFunk was doing, but it’s just complicated and I’m busy. The basic idea, so I’m not totally guilty, is that human societies are founded upon and legitimated by empathy and by the idea of fairness, and that is where out morality comes from. Also Schoepenhauer is a good philosopher, but I haven’t actually read him.

37. On October 30th, 2007 at 11:28 am, Swan said:
Whoops- above comment was written before MudFunk’s #35 comment was posted. I’ve got to read it now to answer it.

38. On October 30th, 2007 at 11:50 am, Swan said:
Swan, the Scottish Common Sense argument, which your own arguments echo very closely, is that reason and sentiment are internal and authored by divinity, giving us a morally pure foundation for how we interact with others.

Ok, you’re making up that I was saying this. You’re taking something that my argument sounded like to you and saying that that’s what I was saying just because the terminology I used sounded like something you heard before. I’d say that our internal empathy, sense of fairness, and ability to reason and use logic are good beacons toward right and wrong, and they also require access to facts and good investigation of facts. I’d never say that any individual man can be counted on to be perfect and always know the right answer at any one time, but I’d definitely say that individual people are capable of reaching the morally “best” answer to a given situation on their own, and that they do it all the time and the ability is very common. But the person who was the good arbiter of justice today might be swayed by passion tommorrow and not reach the right conclusion in another conflict. That’s a reason to hone our senses and hone our logic and our quest for truth, though, not an argument that we shouldn’t trust them and become the moral vagabonds the Fundies would have us become, swayed by individual charasmatic, bullying leaders and their arbitrary pronouncements. If you worship any individual charasmatic man who happens to be bullying you at the time, instead of looking for the truth yourself, you have turned away from God, and this is what happens with the Fundies- they worship men and the worship authority and they worship the strong, and they have turned away from God and they tell themselves all sorts of pretty lies to makes themselves believe it’s still worshipping God.

It doesn’t take much to recognize this as a fundamentally undemocratic philosophy; I don’t have to attend to the experiences and viewpoints of others because I have an internal and infallible guide for how I think and feel.

Again, this is not something I said. I believe feelings and logic are both indispensible, but that they are both honed by reference to what other people feel and experience about their moral sense and logic, which helps us to find what is common in everyone’s experience of moral sense and reason and thus is the true empathy and reason, and not one’s goals distorted by one’s subjective position. For more on this, again see John Rawls, whose answer is that our sense of fairness ultimately has to do with sensing what is the best “rule” for a situation when we have to posit we don’t know how we personally would come into the particular dispute- as weak or strong, as favored or unfavored by the situation. We are still able to form opinions and figure out what’s the best rule for the community, and for everyone in it, divorced of what will benefit a particular type of person (black, white, rich, whatever) when they come to face the situation. Again, this is the type of thinking fundies could research and discovere and find would be very helpful to them, but they don’t because they’re charlatans or cowards.

As to love: The contours of what we recognize as love are socially constructed. Yes, we are fundamentally social creatures and need to care for each other; but how we experience such care varies from place to place and time to time.

Love is an innate, biological phenomenon that is common to everybody (except, perhaps, a few defective individuals) and arises from God. Everyone can have that feeling, and it comes from limited kinds of situations and stimuli, and not from others. The general parameters are important, not the particular variations, for proving the validity and importance of love (from a non-theological viewpoint– but it also can inform a theological viewpoint, and make it make more sense). You feel love towards a person, you don’t walk up to a plant and spontaneously feel love for it. Some people have those feelings, but it’s either not quite the same feeling as we usually mean when we say “love” (that is, the kind of love we feel towards people) or it’s an intellectual experience, something that is developed and is experienced in reference to love toward God (which again has to do with love for people, since the love we feel toward God is like loving a human person).

Your following comments about love are just conclusory and don’t really address what’s pertinent to what we’re talking about. They’re more appropos to discussing love’s significance in romantic life with someone who has their heartbroken when they have a relationship with someone from a very different culture and can’t understand why they ended up not being able to see eye-to-eye on a bunch of different things in the long run. In that context they’d be a way of explaining to people that love isn’t the constant construct they idealistically thought it was, but those comments shouldn’t destroy love completely. On closer examination, that lover would probably find that her breakup had more to do with details that don’t really have to do with love than with love itself; that if her partner thought hanging out together two weekends a month was love and she though hanging out four weekends was love, the disagreement had more to do with a misunderstanding than with love being an entirely subjective and therefore fundamentally irresolveable or undefineable concept (it’s not). Perhaps the relationship could have worked if both individuals just had more growth and a bigger persepective; it doesn’t have to come down to one having the capacity to love and the other not.

39. On October 30th, 2007 at 11:58 am, Swan said:
Saying that people have different experiences of love, or logic, or moral sense, and that they sometimes seem to disagree about these things, is a really cheap way to argue that these things aren’t valid or that they don’t really exist. It’s like putting a gorilla suit on a guy and then claiming that he’s therefore now a gorilla.

40. On October 30th, 2007 at 12:16 pm, MudFunk said:
I’d definitely say that individual people are capable of reaching the morally “best” answer to a given situation on their own, and that they do it all the time and the ability is very common

Like I said, undemocratic, at least when this capability is referenced in regard to social policy (refer again to the Addams quote in the previous quote). Am I still putting words in mouth? Your reference to consulting evidence is just a half-hearted nod at democratic deliberation; it implies that, given enough facts, you could moral sense and logic yourself to the right answer without actually dealing with how others interpret those facts through their own social experience.

Rawls is Common Sense liberal with a slightly more nuanced sense of intersubjectivity than the eighteenth-century Scots, so my original characterization of your moral philosophy stands. Again, read Democracy and Social Ethics; it’s short, lucid, and enjoyable.

41. On October 30th, 2007 at 2:00 pm, Swan said:
I think the basic problem with the Jane Addams stuff, or the Jane Addams as you’re using it (since, as I said, I have no idea whether what you’re saying represents her actual words) is its idea that using the moral sense to solve ethical problems is somehow necessarily invalid. What I would say is, while the moral sense of a particular person might in many circumstance be inadequate to solve particular ethical problems, we do of necessity need the moral sense of somebody, at least, to start to solve ethical problems (and then, often, we need other tools in addition). This is just in the nature of an ethical problem, since we can’t have goodness or rightness without people’s sense of what benefits society, of proportionality, of desert, of reward for good and punishment for bad.

However the very reason the moral sense, or logic, or empathy of people is useful to solve these problems is because of what’s common about those senses among all peoples.

I think I’ve been hitting you over the head with this a lot already, and it handily defeats your charge of “undemocratic,” since it references universal values. Anyway, your throwing out the term “undemocratic” is in the nature of a conclusory accusation, since you’re not defining what kind of democracy we need to have sufficient democracy, why we need it (of course), and why we need it in particular circumstances (Does the child need to have a say in it when a mother reaches a decision about how to fairly allot goods among her children? Does the man passing by? What does it take for a person to get to have a say in it? You can see you’re leaving a lot about your concern undefined.) But again, this is all extraneous, because of what I wrote before about how the question is solved by us just trying to reach basic, agreed-upon values. Again, see the Rawls thing and his “social contract analogy” stuff. You seem to be ignoring a lot of what I’m writing…

You wrote:

Your reference to consulting evidence is just a half-hearted nod at democratic deliberation; it implies that, given enough facts, you could moral sense and logic yourself to the right answer without actually dealing with how others interpret those facts through their own social experience.

Again, this is just blowing past a lot of what I was saying. I expressly wrote that fairness comes with making reference to what’s good for all and that this augments (actually is interwoven with, helps give life to) your own moral sense. There’s definitely a lot more than isolated subjectivity needed there to establish that criteria. Your own implicit claim that moral sense can (or must???) somehow be ignored to achieve ethics is in my view insurmountable. You’re either saying that or trying to say that one must ignore his own feelings or conclusions about right and wrong in order to reach conclusions about right and wrong (???) or trying to somehow dishonestly attribute to me the nonsense idea that one’s own arbitray whims must alone determine what is right and wrong. I never said that; only that a moral sense existed and could be consulted. And yes, that is a hell of a lot for you to be putting in my mouth when I only said what I said.

42. On October 30th, 2007 at 3:23 pm, Swan said:
I would say that- not even just most, not even just overwhelmingly most or almost everyone down to a man- but every normal person takes into account others in some way, shape, or form when doing ethical reasoning and reaching moral conclusions. Even people who reach what we would consider ethically deviant conclusions (and again, we reach that conclusion as to their deviance by the same process I’ve been describing throughout) make some reference to how their conclusion effects the interests of other people. I would say it’s part of the innate, a priori faculty I’ve been describing to recognize the feelings/needs of others as a valuable frame of reference in reaching these moral conclusions, as opposed to, say, what color the moss was on the bark of the tree you walked by that afternoon. So I think the stuff about other people is incorporated into what else I’ve been saying not only by a secondary refining of initial cues of a moral sense, but in the working of the moral sense itself, which we then investigate and plumb and improve upon through our rational processes and fact-investigatory faculties.

What I’ve been describing in all these comments has the advantages of not only being descriptively accurate of how we actually reach conlusions we call “moral,” by also being proscriptively reliable as how we’ve reached workable results over the ages. Sure, it sometimes takes a few generations to sort problems out until one reaches a best answer to a problem, or it may take a few generations to pass for more resources attained through increased technology to be available so that kinks get worked out through more objective leeway in the problem. But over time we get more and more justice in the world and although the process isn’t ideal in terms of always instantly returning ideal justice to us when we need it, over the long run, it works. I’d like to see what you propose as an alternative. It’s kind of weird that you attack me so much but you don’t even suggest the contours of what you think an acceptable alternative would be.

From your criticisms, it sounds something like “democracy” would be your ultimate criteria, defined unfortunately by reference to nothing else than “democracy.” Everyone’s own personal answer is right for what it is, and we determine what to do based on some critical mass of consensus. This leaves us in the dilemma of adapting some process for determing what the consensus is, that will ultimately cut off our ability to consensus decided every issue somewhat arbitrarily, as we can’t spend our lives constantly discussing and voting, or, it could head in the other direction, trying to achieve perfect consensus by using daily votes and real-time technology over internet to handle it all. Pretty unwieldy! And then, we don’t have any frame of reference for how the individuals should make their decisions and how they should decide how to cast their votes. Pretty weird.

Anyway, sorry if this is putting stuff in your mouth, but you sound like you are arguing for the “everything is relative and let’s argue for democracy without daring to define what it means or think about why we should have it” set.

43. On October 30th, 2007 at 3:32 pm, Swan said:
Just to make this clearer for anyone who may have been following all this and may have become confused, although MadFunk uses the word “democracy” and although what we are saying and the thought of some of the thinkers we referenced may have implications for political philosophy, this is a moral philosophy discussion, not a political philosophy discussion. I did not in any way argue that single individuals are capable of making political decisions on their own for entire societies. I wasn’t giving my opinions on governance, I was giving my opinions on how we form our notions of right or wrong more generally, and that is what MadFunk was responding to although his use of the word “democracy” may have made it sound like we were talking about politics.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Amazing Political Animal Comment

Today Kevin Drum deleted one of my comments and referred me to his explicitly arbitrary commenting policy (its being arbitrary wouldn't be a bad thing, except that it's enforced in a bad way). In the comment, I stuck up for a commenter who another commenter unfairly accused of being a troll. Here's what I wrote in the comment Kevin found so horrible that he had to delete it, as far as I can remember:

Hey Kevin! How about deleting comments 12:20 through 1:59? If I didn't know better, sometimes judging from the comments on this blog, I'd believe this was some kind of blog hosted by myspace, rather than a blog maintained for adults.

Glenn wrote:

So Watson made an asshole comment. What does that have to do with anything? Demanding that liberal blogs denounce Watson lest their failure be found to be evidence of approval and hypocrisy is by definition a troll comment. See also, e.g., Ward Churchill et al. It's also, by the way, moronic.

I wonder where I can find that definition of a troll comment? As far as I've seen, the only place is Glenn on October 21, 2007 at 12:50 PM, PERMALINK. Also, Steve Sailer didn't say anything accusing people who don't write about Watson of being hypocrites or of approval. You are putting words in his mouth.

Steve Sailer just suggested that liberals write about what Watson said. Merely making a suggestion doesn't make you a troll.

Amazingly, Kevin saw fit to delete all of this. Kevin is some cowardly rich guy, and like all people from that social set, he's way too concerned about what other rich people think of him and probably thinks that his life is going to be instantly destroyed if anything that could embarrass him or discredit his blog passes in front of their eyes once. I know it's childish, but tell that to him and all the people who raise people like him, don't tell it to me. So I think the part of my comment he was really offended by was the myspace part. The permalink of the whole comment thread so you can check this all out is here.

Kevin is doing a bad job of policing his comments, obviously. I definitely don't think Kevin is not a real liberal, or that he can't tell at all what's a troll comment or what's not. I think he's intelligent enough that he must have a sense that this troll thing is a really big problem and is more than just a few conservative pranksters or a few conservative assholes who have delusions of grandeur and think that they are going to influence the whole nation through home-made psychological tricks and deception. I think he's scared that if he doesn't acquiesce in the face of it, there are going to be repercussions for him. But I think that Kevin needs to chill the hell out, and that nothing bad is going to happen to him, and what liberals need to do is stop stampeding in the wrong direction of where they need to be going every time some conservative makes a little noise.

So, there you have it. Kevin is doing something wrong and making a huge mistake, but what can you do. You can't count on everyone who writes a good blog to always be intelligent and to always make the correct decisions.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Action heroes are big Nazis

Why do so many action heroes such assholes, or have such weird or deranged beliefs?

  • Erroll Flynn: big Nazi.
  • John Wayne: uber-conservative.
  • Charlton Heston: NRA gun-nut.
  • Mel Gibson: made a torture-porn movie about Jesus Christ; makes other racist-seeming movies (ex.- Apokalypto); slurred Jews in confrontation a cop. His father is a Holocaust-denier, just like Ahmadinejad.
  • Tom Cruise: turned out to be a Scientologist.
  • Chuck Norris: uber-conservative.
  • Steven Seagal: ditched wife in Japan; married another woman while still married to her.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger: Groped chicks against their will, picked on people growing up, and rumored to be a Nazi. Father was rumored to be a Nazi sympathizer. Uber-conservative.
  • Sylvester Stallone: allegedly an egomaniac who picks on his domestic servants.
  • Jean-Calude Van Damme: picks on people, picks on and gropes women against their will.
  • Colin Farrell: gets into too many fights.
  • Russell Crowe: flips out and picks on people.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Frank Herbert redux

A couple more kind-of prescient quotes from those old Frank Herbert interviews I discussed the other day:

I don't think that the mere writing of such a book as Brave New World or 1984 prevents those things which are portrayed in those books from happening. But I do think they alert us to that possibility and make that possibility less likely. They make us aware that we may be going in that direction. We may be contriving a strictly controlled police culture. B. F. Skinner worries the hell out of me. He is right out of Huxley. He is standing there like a small boy saying, "Please let me have a world like this because I feel safe in it!" He is saying, "I want to control it." He may be very accurate in his assessment that our total society is going in that direction and that maybe he is opting for the lesser of numerous evils, in his view. But what kind of a society would that produce?
I think that sums up the attitude perfectly, and Herbert's analysis is great. This is just the kind of personality liberals are striving against.

Here's another one:

I have this theory that heroes are bad for society, human society. And that superheroes are super bad. Some of the stuff that Kennedy did, for example, is just coming out. The problem with heroes and superheroes is that we don't question their decisions.
I kind of balked at this one at first, but I thought about it a little and now I get it. Bush and Giuliani- they're the heroes of our society nowadays. They're the guys who have been lionized. But, along with that, we don't question their actions. Sure, some of us do- informed liberals do. But a lot of people are very hard pressed to really listen to the liberals' criticism and understand its meaning, once they've heard the story-line that Bush and Giuliani are supposed to be the heroes. I think the polls are encouraging, but the influence of the "hero" tendency is still strong, and as we've seen it can take way too long to wake up from.

Speaking about how he handled his success in the context of working as a university professor, Herbert said,

The role patterns are very fixed in our society. I taught at the University of Washington for awhile. And the first to two classes I had to shatter all of those illusions. Say "shit" four or five times, you know? And sometimes even worse. You really have to do things that break up the patterns.
I tend to doubt liberals' gut instinct that those social roles always need to be challenged, and that they're always doing us more harm than good. But as Herbert is pointing out, it's empowering and can be important to recognize that those roles are, to an extent, illusions. And of course, if a particular person (like Herbert) is uncomfortable with what the paradigm thrusts upon him/her, he or she has to know how to bust out of it-- how to say to people, "Hey, I'm not a hero, I'm just a regular guy." And that may take saying "shit" 3 or 4 times, or whatever- whatever it takes to make people not see you as a superman. Literally saying "Hey, I'm not a hero, I'm just a regular guy" probably just sounds like false modesty-- even deeper buying into the hero paradigm-- nowadays. And we may discover that for acts of "heroism" that become increasingly necessary for our continuing betterment as a society and our collective survival-- resisting the B.F. Skinners-- it may be important to break down that hero image, and make those acts not seem like tremendous ordeals, so more people will feel inclined to engage in them. What starts as a big act of resistance, with one person, becomes thousands and tens of thousands of little acts of resistance. And that's the real heroism in a society.

Kid Nation

There's something that's been bothering me about the new reality show about 40 kids living on their own, without parents, in a ghost town, called Kid Nation: the kids compete to work in different "jobs" each week- laborer, merchant, cook, and "upper class." They are governed by a kid council. I've been wondering-- who thought up this arrangement? If it's truly supposed to be about kids living on their own, why couldn't they have thought up their own government-- like say, an egalitarian society with a system for proposing and selecting referenda that are voted on with full enfranchisement (any kid can vote, nothing can disqualify them from voting, and each kid has their vote counted each time) and full vote-equality (one person, one vote)? "Upper-class"?

Frank Herbert: visionary

I had the good fortune of being introduced to Dune by seeing some or most of the original movie as a little kid (probably on HBO or something- not on the big screen), not really following or understanding it but being intrigued with the look and feel of it, and then reading the original novel without having the plot spoiled for me in 7th or 8th grade. So I approached Dune without ever having too-quickly dismissed it as something stupid or corny, didn't know much about what it was about beside giant worms when I first read it, and at that time read the whole marvelous thing all the way through. I think I started reading it again as soon as I was done with it, and to this day it's one of the best things I've ever read (If you've seen the movie, there are some pretty significant changes (One significant change, which doesn't affect the characters or the plot, is that in the book, Paul Atreides teaches the desert-people martial arts, which apparently his people know bettter than they do, but in the movie, he teaches them to build and use a weapon which apparently enhances psychic telekinetic powers so ordinary people can use it to hurt people and destroy things-- the desert-people who fervently follow Paul end up being most effective with the weapon when they utter the name they've given him, Muad Dib, as they fire it. So, if you thought the weapon in the movie was corny-- it wasn't Frank Herbert's idea, as far as I know.) and things left out from the book, and the book is largely filled with the characters' thoughts about the situations they find themselves in (more so, in fact, than in any other novel I've ever read- and characters' thoughts are something which you can't put a lot of on film and make it work out well)-- more a literature book than a science fiction book, sci-fi just being the medium for a great story. So, the film is necessarily a lot different than the book, and the book is definitely worth reading.

I was looking at Frank Herbert's Wikipedia page today and I noticed, as one would expect, that he was a really interesting guy. The page links to some old intereviews of him, now online, and he has a few cool quotes in one of them (although some of it is a little hard to follow, because he speaks in a colloquial style, and about a lot of big ideas, all of which take some knowledge to understand). Standing out among all of them are these, in which Herbert (speaking in 1977) foresees aspects of the War Against Terror, proliferation of consumer use of computers, and the commercialization of the internet:

Herbert: I don't believe in fission power for the generation of electricity - not for the usual reasons. I would love to build a fission power plant for the generation of electricity. I know we have to find the energy somewhere. I say fission rather than fusion because I'm not sure about that either, but that's a different bag.

Breeder reactors are an act of desperation which are only going to cause us enormous trouble - ENORMOUS trouble. We are condemning our great-great-great-GREAT-grandchildren, many times down, to cursing us. If this society goes ahead with breeder reactors, our descendants will rewrite the history books to erase names. They will plow up our cemeteries to use the bones to make their china.

Interviewer: What's wrong with breeder reactors?

Herbert: They're targets. We're going into a period of enormous social unrest worldwide. Right now, one person, one kamikaze - I say we're going into the time of the kamikaze. As yet we don't have a means of preventing a kamikaze from hitting his target; we can't even prevent a kamikaze from hitting a president.

Right now, one man with a light airplane loaded with explosives could make the entire downriver of the Columbia (River, major waterway separating Washington state from Oregon) uninhabitable - from Hanford over here.

The thing that really gets me is not that we're going ahead with breeder reactors, but that we don't have anti-aircraft facilities and radar facilities around all of our existing atomic plants. We don't have such defense systems around. It is absolute stupidity.

When you say that you have guards and protection systems around these plants, there's an assumption in that, that historically has never been accurate. This is, that all your guards and your protective people - the operative word, ABSOLUTELY - are trustworthy. That they will never go psychotic or anything like that. You're saying all of these things - like, "We don't have that kind of protective system."

Even then, who did the programming? Who did the software? (laughs) What is your janitor like?

What we're doing is committing ourselves to building a system where we need absolute protection. And we have no absolute protection. The consequences of not having that absolute protection. The consequences of not having that absolute protection (Editor's Note: are worse) than if we just let it all go to hell and got by without the energy. Go back to burning wood, coal and all kinds of nasty things.

[material cut out by me ~Swan]

Interviewer: Let's take a look at modern day jihads. What lies ahead?

Herbert: We're going to have a lot of violence and upset. It's no simple, one thing. One of the things that's involved is the information explosion. Computers are going to have more influence on the society that involves this world for the next 35 years, very likely, than fire did. Computers are going to make an enormous difference.

I'll go WAY out on a limb. I think you're going to see biological linkage between human and computer. The computer is going to enter all phases of life, including what we generally feel is our individual freedom. The minute you can make a simulation model of a segment of society, then it's predictable that you're going to be able to refine that down to smaller and smaller bits. So you're going to be able to tell eventually what... you'll have uses. You see, this is not a totally bad thing. You'll be able to tell what the energy demand of the city of Seattle will be. You'll be able to tell the energy demand of the Mount Baker district. You'll be able to tell what the energy demand of Pete MacKenzie will be.

But you will also be able to tell what you talk, how you can talk Pete MacKenzie into buying "X". What are his buttons, yes. Now, the other side of that coin is that, historically, whenever this has happened people have tended to grow calluses.

They're having trouble on television right now selling things on television commercials.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jena Six

The Wikipedia page discussing the Jena Six contains the "weasel words" (a Wikipedia term used to denote misleading language):

Some residents of the town - both white and black - have expressed the view that the current problem is more the fault of outsiders using racial politics to influence the justice system
As if, in a town with thousands of people, it matters what an unknown, unquantified "some" believe, so much so that it should be the fourth sentence in the article that will probably turn up within the first five hits most people will see on a Google search for "Jena Six."

Indeed, some are trying to influence racial politics, but they're not keeping it in small towns where they won't let Blacks be equal with Whites. They're on the Internet, where they're trying to affect how you and I perceive the development of integration and racial harmony in this country which you and I and all of us have a stake in.

"Some" would apparently have us believe that one thing this whole chain of events in Jena is about is a lot of young people's inability to respect the law. An occurrence from early on in the chain of events that comprise the total controversy and ultimately led to the assault that is the subject of the "Jena Six" trial was the local DA's statement to a group of students that "[w]ith one stroke of my pen, I can make your life disappear." I don't think the inability of young black people to understand the proscriptions of the law or what a DA can do to them is really what this controversy is all about. I think real lesson for the country of the Jena Six controversy is that one small town in Louisiana was not able to avoid a hell of a lot of trouble because it was not willing to let a few kids sit under a tree. This chain of events is the fault of adults as much as it is of kids.