Fall Wood, Plato, Choosing, Priority

oak treeFall is overwhelming me. With two fields being mowed, chisel plowed, disked, disked, disked, disked, cultipacked, seeded, and rolled by our contract farmer, the fields have never looked so clean. I can’t keep up with the fire wood, garden conversion from field to greenhouse, outside-income work, and general farm chores. I wonder about the choosing of priorities in work and politics.

A farm of more than a few acres is best as a community entity. Though isolated and short term the various big chores benefit from many hands and minds. Rotating seasonal work around farm lines creates a community of shared types and desires based on how and what is farmed. The large contract farmer takes on several farms.

Communities that extend to others, particularly, past geologic and geographic boundaries have different interests. When they get together they want to talk about different things. Perhaps even a hurt or sick relative is all they can think of.

Choosing politics here seems like choosing the next task I should do on my list. What’s going to affect me soonest, worst, longest? Perhaps whatever task holds my attention can’t be interrupted? Perhaps some past issue causes me to remain moot? Perhaps sheer anger at having to do the task silences conversation. Many ways. I seem to do poorly at resolving these priorities but for reason or I would’t need to think about them.

Reason includes providing information and evidence. Yet, the reasoning is about what to do. You can’t begin to do what you don’t know about. What it is and what to do are intertwined in a braid so tight it can only be cut. Further, you see value in both as attraction, or beauty; even the ugly serves as guide to what is beautiful; you are disgusted about what is not true or right to do or beautiful. Restraint, amidst exploration, follows. Art as well. All to choose what to do next.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Rational Atheism, the New Irrational Atheism

hitchens-smokingPost work-weekend reunion is a rapid transition. Everything is happening at once with declining daylight. It is simply not possible to have enough light to continue working at what most needs to be done. Even interior work lags, fighting artificial light.

Irrational Atheismn posts that atheism is just another faith, yawn, but atheism is still exciting..

Ironically, this is similar to the totalizing worldview of religion—neither can be shown to be true or false by science, or indeed by any rational technique. Whether theistic or atheistic, they are all matters of faith, stances taken up by tiny creatures in an infinitely rich environment.

I’m an atheist because I think of the universe as a natural, material system. I think of it, on the basis of my own extremely limited experience, as an infinitely replete but morally indifferent thing. It isn’t bent on saving me, or damning me: It just is. I find comfort in that, as well as pain; wonder as well as loathing. That’s my experience, and my atheism is a reflection of that experience. But it’s not an argument; it’s an interpretation.

The thing is that most nonbelievers don’t posit, for example, that a really big white sky daddy created us and is here to allow us to torture each other to be able to go to a world we think is better.

From near all views humans have used evidence and reason to form whatever world view they want. Even intuition(s) reduce to evidence and reason. This does not make all world views the same or equal. People trust they are thinking, eating, defecting, feeling pain. Heuristic biases focus thoughts. Reflection aids. There are things of which we are more certain than others.

Kierkegaard is great to torture one’s aesthetic self but the witless leap is praising action to stasis without regard to content except in its promise of movement. Using this to choose a religion requires a near constant changing as one gains more or less evidence, reason, sufficient to create action. It is existentialistic in that it is a constant creation of meaning in the face of a changing environment and self. But I don’t think that’s the religion most mean, atheistic or not. Nor is it certain that this kind of rapid cognitive evolution is helpful in societies meriting tradition. All this time considering I’m using reason and not jumping to conclusions, though like walking is falling, I am. We can still think and walk effectively, run even.

Irrational is a convenient term to mark a point on a line where rationality suddenly becomes unreasonable. Just where is that point for you?

Everything is an interpretation may as well be everything is a misinterpretation. While semiotics helps deconstruct many biases in reasoning, science, and culture it doesn’t preclude prescription and some decree of moving certainty. It’s okay to say genital mutilation is wrong for absolute humanitarian reasons.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Atheist Rehab Care


Family, farm-work, reunion weekends are an all embracing aspect of living here. Requires several days of prep and then recovery.

It’s nice to see Barry A Hazle Jr win a couple million for refusing to join faith-based rehab programs.

Barry A. Hazle Jr., 46, served time for a conviction of methamphetamine possession in 2007. As a condition of his parole, he was enrolled in a drug treatment program where participants were required to acknowledge a “higher power,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Hazle complained and asked for a different treatment program, but was told the only option in his area was the faith-based, Westcare 12-step program, according to the Record Searchlight.

Hazle was sent back to jail for more than three months for allegedly being “disruptive, though in a congenial way, to the staff as well as other students” and being “sort of passive-aggressive,” the paper reported.

Disruptive though in a congenial way. Annoying but not alienating.

There needs to be better and many more rehab programs for many levels and extents of addictions; part of basic mental health services freely and easily available. Therapy booth and birth control at Walmart next to the optical center.

“I’m thrilled to finally have this case settled,” Hazle said on Tuesday. “It sends a clear message to people in a position of authority, like my parole agent, for example, that they not mandate religious programming for their parolees, and for anyone else, for that matter.”

The higher power can often be anything, a lucky rabbit’s foot, a chair, whatever. Which is more like totemism or material fetishism, but why would I, for example, do it? How would it work without conversion? If faiths are supportive to wellness then the faiths of the unfaithfuls need their own remediation.

The California Department of Corrections has since issued new rules stating that parole officers may not require parolees to attend faith-based programs.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Nobel for Work on Internal Mapping

Old-World-map-1689I spent a day collecting metal from broken or obsolete equipment. I collected about 2,200 lbs of it. There is still much left but it was another chunk. A few years ago another trip collected 8,000 lbs. Metal at $7 a lb means we have a little cash to help with expenses. I am always anxious about removing equipment. Railroad iron that could be made into anvils or used as weights to make equipment more effective; sawn up metal oil tanks that could be cut again and used for other projects; gears, pulleys, and wheels that can be repurposed to new projects. All balanced against the need to not make the farm look like a junk yard or free up storage space. Or there simply isn’t enough labor to keep up with growing infrastructure. *Junk* is both a resource and a liability.

I fantasize about how this or that could be used if there were a global disaster, the economy collapsed, society crumbled, disease wiped out half the population. Then I’d want those muffler bearings. Naww, toss them, waiting for the apocalypse is a fool’s game.

What we do with these things of our material world often relate to what we think is important in separate considerations. A gear, pulley, or mower blade have a built-in designed capability or expected use but someone can explode that with creativity. A tempered mower blade can be made into a knife or a dear hide scraper or support meal for equipment repair.

It seems like we can view this through a lens of singular or manifold use, this gear is for a King Kutter 6′ mower, or manifold use, this gear can be used for many many purposes, including returning it back to its basic material, iron. This mapping of use seems a lot like mapping of position. Many people have seen religion as a kind of mapping, showing the correct direction. Knowledge and morality, or direction of use, are more intertwined than we think.

Anglo-American John O’Keefe and Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser won the 2014 Nobel Prize for medicine on Monday for discovering the brain’s internal positioning system, helping humans find their way and giving clues to how strokes and Alzheimer’s affect the brain…

“How does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?”

When Western explorers met native navigators they could not understand how the natives found their way over vast distances or water or blank jungle, desert, ice. The compass and various types of sextants allowed Western explorers to calculate magnetic and true North as an absolute reference point to direction. They then could triangulate their position and the position of other stars, planets, land masses, and so forth, to create more accurate maps of their world.

Natives often used relative positioning for navigation; where are they in relation to what is immediately around them? Polynesian navigators would use wind, waves, birds, clouds, water motion, fish, and a host of other clues that allowed them to know where to go for awhile upon awhile in what seemed like a blank ocean without reference points.

The Western way is much like the belief in a primary god where direction is found by determining an absolute entity, True North, and every thing moves or is in reference to that. How easy then to think that everything in life is measured by an absolute entity. Entertaining to consider whether this system was found because of an inclination to monotheism or absolutism or if it really was the system that best fit what they were doing at the time. No doubt some combination.

Relative positioning is like the multifaceted lives of native groups with their animism, multiple gods, and constant conversations with their environment. Western explorers found and then imposed upon nature, using a distant star, while natives looked close and followed local clues. Of course the dichotomy of imposition is not real as natives could be just as destructive. The real difference being mobility and familiarity. The less you can move the more likely you are to seek resource balance, or die back to subsistence level, or disappear.

Nearly a decade later, the Moser team discovered cells, in the entorhinal cortex region in brains of rats, which function as a navigation system. These so-called “grid cells”, they discovered, are constantly working to create a map of the outside world and are responsible for animals’ knowing where they are, where they have been, and where they are going.

Animals then have several means of knowing direction. Small internal compasses that detect magnetic North intuitively, internal grids that codify positioning, and conversations with evidence that lead along a local path where ongoing information tells you how to move along. Sounds a lot like brands of world philosophies.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Religious Meaning is Not Special

life cycleFall is a tough time for outdoor work. The days get shorter, the temperatures swing from hot to cold and back again. The summer maintenance projects that got left behind come to the fore as the regular work must continue. As our family gets used to being in school I become more empathetic to their vicious schedules and try to compensate more by doing more house chores until frustration over my growing list drives me to abandon preserving garden food, better meals, and a cleaner house.

I spent part of yesterday trying to repair a leaking faucet. The field hydrant needs to be changed but even with the water off there is a leak. The valve has been changed and works yet there is a trickle. Either some other leaking pipe attaches to it in this old make shift maze of farm plumbing or there are two leaks and the only solution will be to shutdown the entire line and lay new pipe. A daunting task in this rocky, hard-clay soil that eats up carbide teeth on ditch diggers.

Living on a farm has meant spending less time backpacking, kayaking, mountaineering, bicycling and other outside pursuits. Working in nature much of the time makes me less inclined to be in more of it for leisure. What makes up my meaning in life is swayed simply by living my life in a different material way.

John Gray’s review of Karen Armstrong’s “Fields of Blood” well reveals the blindness of religious expressionists to secular, or any different, expressionism.

“Neither the Greeks nor the Romans”, Armstrong reminds us, “ever separated religion from secular life. They would not have understood our modern conception of ‘religion’. They had no authoritative scriptures, no compulsory beliefs, no distinct clergy and no obligatory ethical rules.”

This simply isn’t true. The mideast was a polyglot of distinct and competing religions with many syncretic sects becoming locally viable and dominant. Priests, like shamans, medicine men, sorcerers, leaders, and wise men were all distinct and frequently were a separate, and privileged class with their own rules. The name Cohen means rabbi and a rabbi has always been privileged and a sought out status, for example.  The phrase “chosen ones” has significance in most religions as they promote their sacred over other’s profane. “One god,” “jealous god,” or educate to godliness are all distinctions like football jerseys that help create alliance and loyalty.

What’s more insulting is these folks seem to feel that a closely held philosophy is more superior if it is religious. Saying that religion is integral to meaning in life is no more than saying everyone lives by a philosophy, even if unspoken and intuitive. We all bring meaning to life. It’s how we do it and how we resolve clashes between them that matters. It’s not my meaning is more intense than yours because it just feels so much more meaningful. Religious meaning is not special meaning that is above philosophy, world meaning, or life view, or peculiar to godliness.

If one meaning means to bind women’s feat and another meaning means to set them free, when these two groups live together and intermarry or witness each other’s expressionism, this clash of meanings must be met by more than saying my meaning is more real or this meaning has always been so.

Either these separate people can become balkanized again with the inevitable commingling and resultant clash, or syncretism, or another set of meanings are developed that enable them to live together without destroying each other. Civil law is a means of maintaining peace that supersedes a particular group. Rather than insisting that one’s meaning is more real or more integral, time could be spent reasoning to find what is meaningful for both or what can be tolerated by both or not. If not, then, how do we keep them sufficiently isolated from each other that offense doesn’t escalate to war?

Reason and science simply because they are not subjectively solipsistic, and there is a there there, allow people to work through living and growing, through meaning, without isolation or violence.

image source

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com

Daniel Dennett, Only Horseman Left Standing

sexist atheistsIt’s been an overwhelmingly busy few days with preserving garden food, supporting a family full of colds, and continuing work. Yet, it is impossible for me not to extract some time to discuss the issue of sexism in atheism as it again rears its ugly head in some recent remarks by Sam Harris in a Washington Post article.

Way back in the neorenaissance of New Atheism they had a conference where they took a few of the big names in atheism and had a conversation. Four people showed up, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was supposed to be there but could not. Otherwise there would have been five horsemen. That was the biggest mistake in this nascent movement (some say it wasn’t-isn’t a movement but usually to derail discussions of intents and purposes.) There were plenty of women atheists at hand, even well published ones.

Indeed, at that time more women were visibly present to the public than now; notably Ellen Johnson, Margaret Downey, Eugenie Scott, Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Wendy Kaminar, Ann Druyan, etc. Though the boards did and do remain male dominated. While I was at that conference I can’t remember the exact list of women atheists available, at hand, but there were plenty to draw from.

Who knew that atheism would face an ontological crisis of inclusiveness of women, minorities, and humanist issues that many, usually men, said had nothing to do with atheism.

Perhaps the most famous woman atheist of old was Madelyn Murray O’Hair but there have been many and anyone paying attention would remember an even older time where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her cohorts wrote a feminist bible.

With this in mind it is troubling that there has been pushback against women, in particular atheists who claim that women haven’t showed up because they aren’t naturally or culturally aggressive enough to enjoy the combative environment–as Sam Harris conjectured. It is true that women have stepped up and said sexism is alive, well, and thriving in atheism. Rebecca Watson in particular but also Amanda Marcotte, Greta Christina, Ophelia Benson, PZ Myers, and many others. In too typical way they were pushed aside with notions of prioritizing social ills in the attempt to return discussion to big issues like flashcards of the most obscene crimes on the planet, forgetting that it is often the everyday acts of violence that count the most.

Mark Oppenheimer’s article outlines this agonizingly protracted issue that has yet to be resolved.

Odd though, that men could talk about atheist issues pertinent to their own worlds yet were unable to consider atheist issues in women’s worlds. I can see the goal was to show just how magnificently evil religion was on a global scale. Richard Dawkins exclaimed surprise that so many came to him and thanked him for giving them the courage to come out. That so many missed the importance of coming out on local levels evidences the blind eyes these men had to their own gardens.

Richard Dawkin’s inability to empathize with the real problems of women who were trying to change the world on local levels as well as national levels made his sincerity sound beyond shallow but vicious. And so it has been in his many oddly inchoate ramblings on logic and social justice, where women should just feel guilty, stupid, ready for schooling, for not thinking right.  And then categorizing all who don’t get him as radical feminists, an old term of specific meaning that now just means feminist. Dawkins has taken Mansplaining to a glorious new high, as if women weren’t far more aware of these issues than he ever will be.

Hitchens famously said women have no sense of humor. His point was that women have been so oppressed, even biology has made their lives more difficult then men’s; they burden most of the ills of the world while working more then men. How could they be humorous they were too busy being oppressed? This sideways homage to women caused his downfall. Mostly because his point was lost in the lack of truth of the statement. Nor was it a matter of statistics looking at how many of one versus the other were present in popular culture. It was casting an inevitability, a wrong one, to women.

Hitchens further lost it when he thought women should stay at home, unless they want to work. That last phrase was completely lost because so many women were choosing to work at great sacrifice because economic power is political power. Women well knew the cost of economic, political, and governing engagement. They didn’t need to be told that staying at home was really the ideal. Especially when that is equally true for men. Especially since that was the crap conservatives were spouting to support their particular form of vicious patriarchy.  Neither of what he said has much to do with reality today, sounding more like a romantic sentimentality of some particular, and rare, egalitarian, forager society that can’t possibly exist now, or in any kind of near future. It’s the kind of talk you hear at renaissance festivals, not politics.

Sam Harris in another inchoate response to “where are the women,” the question itself sounding like a Steve Martin skit on Saturday Night Live, responded by saying the atheist world is a competitive world, and women are more nurturing supportive types. Saying this to a growing audience of feminists is beyond absurd. Basically he shot himself in the foot while chewing the other up to his knee. More pertinent is sexism exists in atheism in greater numbers than anyone thought. It took women to show this because of incredible confirmation bias on the part of men. Addressing this directly would have been incredibly helpful and far more accurate.

The only person left is Daniel Dennett who has gone on in his work. Reminding me of Santayana he maintains an Olympian gaze to the world below while he finishes up his tenure. His exaggerated and annoyed response to Sam Harris playing philosophy in his musing of free will shows just how annoyed professionals get when amateurs play expert. Aside from this, Dennett is also the only working professor and educator of the bunch, which means he long ago learned how to analyze and deal with an audience as well as how to educate rather than pontificate. He has certainly shown a curmudgeon responsiveness. He famously quipped he didn’t see how it would be socially useful to study people who meditate 10 hours a day. A perspicacious clue as to why many women find fault with Buddhism, precisely because it has been a male separatism from not just the world but women and the families they often leave behind in happy bliss.

The last salvo has been about the #EstrogenVibe against Harris. I can say the best remark on that was by Debbie Goddard who said she would like to imagine that meant something more pleasant.

Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com