The Trope of Dawkins Mouth


I bid on some repair work on a house recently purchased by a psychotherapist. The work wasn’t much but some of it wasn’t right for me or needed to be done in warmer weather, though conceivably it could be done in the cold. But to me it could wait. For him he seemed anxious to have it done. I’ll have to figure out how to parse this in the bid for him.

We were talking about his bad knee, the dangers of ladders, and so forth when he noted he doesn’t like to call it a bad knee but a surgically corrected knee. This helps him keep a positive attitude about it and helps heal it. This led to more discussion where he praised homeopathy. I responded that I certainly believed in the placebo effect but homeopathy not so much as more than that. This clearly concerned him and he went on about how he had had this horrible disease that was only cured by homeopathy. Further that James Randi had backed out of a homeopathy test, presumably because he thought it would pass and he’d have to pay the million.

I noted that the placebo effect works on depression and pain more than say cancer and then even with cancer some types are more amenable to it. That it was a complicated subject. Further that many homeopaths spend considerable time with their patients rather than the typical 11-minute doctor visit; that medicine had shot itself in the foot with its inability to inform and develop relationships.

Driving home I felt I could have handled it a bit better. Rather than arguing even as lightly as I had I could have just flown over it by saying that I was glad he was better but I had questions about homeopathy and how it really worked. When is arguing appropriate or necessary?  How do we do it to be effective? What words nudge people in the right direction without alienating? It’s a difficult process that even the best do poorly. Tim Minchin has talked about this and certainly comedy or self effacing indulgence has a way of sliding in change,

Richard Dawkins doubled down on his controversial remarks in a recent article.

“I don’t take back anything that I’ve said,” Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. “I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood and so I will … ”

He trailed off momentarily, gazing at his hands resting on a patio table.

“I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well,” he said. “There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me.”

Ok, let’s back up a bit. Especially since I am one of the so-called thought police (an idiotic phrase since there is no authoritarian power or mandate) that has made many comments trying to get this famous thought leader (an odious phrase at best) to broaden his perspective or at least to learn how to phrase his opinions more accurately and kindly. I have also previously contextualized Dawkins to his background to show he is at least consistent and we should not be surprised, but nevertheless annoyed if not angry. Most of the issues Dawkins abrades people with is based on priorities and the comparative ills of different sorts of issues from abuse to women to choices in birthing.

Many atheists are aware that Dawkins dismissed another atheist’s remarks (Rebecca Watson) who stated that there is still sexism, too much, in our culture and particularly in atheism. Certainly not surprising considering the history of American atheism in spite of women like EC Stanton, MM O’hare, and many more, often unspoken. It doesn’t take a math pro to see that for decades atheist groups and boards were dominated by men, usually older white men, and still are.

What Dawkins was trying to do was dismiss Watson’s voice of concern by saying there are far worse crimes against women in other parts of the world to which we should all be focusing our attention as completely as possible. It’s a classic big tent concentration tactic where the hope is if everyone fights fewer issues there will be more success. Pick the biggest and worst problem(s) and focus on it.

This tactic rarely works unless there is an obvious biggest priority such as aliens have attacked the Earth and we all must fight them or die. Even then there will be disagreement on how best to do that. It also leads to the kind of intransigent bipolar politics everyone claims to hate.

In our diversity people choose a way based on their history, interests, and and what they think is important to them. This is also based on the style of social interaction and politics. If a platform is a single-issue platform then leaders will tend to focus on that platform only. Much like people will vote on a candidate on a single issue like abortion, or gun rights, or even color of skin or gender. Makes decisions more easy. Others though see nuances or many divisions in a platform and interconnectedness within issues. A person committed to women’s rights may see immigration, gun control, equal representation, and abortion rights as all being part of the same pathology of a culture where you can’t comment on one without commenting on the rest.

I believe it was Voltaire who said we must tend our on gardens first. It is not an idiotic, unusual, or unpopular position that feminists take when they say we need to pay attention to what’s happening here and that it is intricately connected to what’s happening there.

As another example, Dawkins also made a leaked personal comment recommending that a woman whose child tested for Down’s Syndrome simply abort and try again as many do and as is often recommended, medical status quo. Of course those who have chosen not to abort told him roughly to go to hell. Dawkins unfamiliar with being criticized by his own kind, fellow atheists, reacted as you would expect with facts and data showing how much more difficult one is and why doctors might recommend the one over the other. All clear as glass to him. As if the others hadn’t worked through the reasoning already and chosen another way.

We have seen similar in another example where EO Wilson has called Dawkins a journalist now and Dawkins has responded with a recent book (published 20 some years ago) as contrary argument. Ants do look a lot like group selection and many have said that the Selfish Gene is out dated–just how many degrees of separation are required. Now we have two scientists bashing each other as well as is too often the case. That a scientist is called a journalist as ultimate hate speech has any reasonable person laughing in the aisle and leaving for a whiskey or whisky.

Oh, fuck all this meta shit. The fact is Dawkins is a conservative that doesn’t get how to be an activist. Nor does he get that people can have differences in choices that are equally worthy of respect. It is quite possible for one woman to say I don’t want to have a child that has tested for Down’s Syndrome as it is for another to say I do.  To dismiss either position as a farce is to deny the very real freedom to choose for good reason. To make facile utilitarian comparisons that it is so much more effort to do one than the other is quite irrelevant. It’s what the individual chooses to do that counts. What’s important is the right to make that choice. If a society were to make it illegal to have a child with Down’s Syndrome then we actually have a real political issue, such as a similar but converse issue where women aren’t allowed to abort. Otherwise it gets rather personal. It’s why we almost all react negatively to Singer’s and Harris’s utilitarianism, a philosophy Fred Hagen used to castigate as belonging to that blockhead Mill. It’s too much like the mathematics of war where death is just a number and strategists lose all humanity in calculating tactics. Nor the ability to look broadly enough to see how comprehensiveness has more value than myopia.

That scientists go this way is often due to making logic god, bad logic that is. That human consciousness should come together in a supercomputer that could make such a choice perfect for all is a nightmare of oppression. I am sure the people will destroy such a computer once it exists. The bludgeon of logical perfection is too often used to perpetuate what is at best a guess. Even the famous at Risk Analysis throttle narrow logical assessments as Nassim Taleb does when he makes clear that the dangers of GMO use  have nothing to do with data and evidence but must incorporate pure math, not evidence, and then shows how the logic of feeding all with one product is a recipe for disaster. It points both ways, evidence doesn’t count nor more compartmentalized logic.

Dawkins is like the classic Anglo, Roman, or Hoplite soldier convinced that battle occurs in one style best, only. And as the British, Romans, and Greeks were defeated by guerrilla tactics, thinking that one way is best for all is doomed logically to failure because risk analysis doesn’t work that way. Nor does science if you follow the math.

Sadly, the lack of desire for the virtue of care negates the ability to consider a contrary view as viable. It’s why logicians are taught to argue both sides and scientists to consider what it means if the available data is all wrong.

Finally, if Dawkins is seeking allies it would be productive to find more common ground and more inclusive ground than to continue bickering over who’s the most right. If he’s not seeking allies then stop complaining.

For those who dismiss Dawkins and burn his books I would say that perhaps they would benefit from paying attention to what he says is true to them and ignoring what is not. It is a sad world where every person is on one side of a dividing line or not. But that’s just my take. For me if I had to choose a philosopher who is most correct I would be at a complete loss.

Jim Newman,

The Mistake of Hating Kim Kardashian

188110552AC126_Celebrity_SiKim Kardashian posed naked for cover and article in Paper and more pertinently posed in a back-arching posture that emphasized her ass and enabled her to balance a glass on it. Many reacted to her nudity as the issue while many remarked on the racist origins of big asses and considered her to be enabling modern racism. Basically the issue is black people were considered hypersexual and the big ass was proof of their unredeemable sexuality. Indeed my own ancestor Sally Watkins was arrested for fraternizing with blacks way back in the 1600’s. The antithesis of enjoying black companionship-culture has deep roots. The movie “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner” was a statement on how even race-accepting liberals couldn’t avoid their racist sentiments.

kim kardashian2 kim kardashian3 jungle feverWhatever you think of Kardashian she brought the voluptuous, curvy body, and female sexuality to popularity at a time when anorexic thinness and sexual repression were popular. Nor did the anorexic look have anything to do with celebrating health or acceptance of all body types. She also helped make nonwhite looking women popular. She also made a women’s personal  acceptable and popular. Shit, we force women to wear these insane painful and bulky bras to make sure their breasts don’t jiggle and you can’t see their nipples. We blame women showing skin for causing harassment. We reward women for wearing makeup that could paint a small car. We insist women shave off hair to look like girls. We use women as decorative objects on a pedestal. We  hate and cover the smell of bodies.  We insist that women are verbal and not visual. We fear sexuality as advantage for social gain. We praise beauty over content. We fear the love of beauty as superficial because they aren’t allowed more. The list is tiresome and long.

Men have suffer from this as well. Men shave beards to look like boys. Men can’t show their sexuality beyond their breasts. We don’t allow men with big breasts to reveal them. Men are supposed to have six-pack abs. The list is shorter than women’s but it is still antibody, antisexual, and pro predatory stereotype.

The real issue isn’t that blacks were hypersexual but that white anglo Protestants (WASP) were puritanical in their hatred of the body and their hatred of sex. The Catholic church only condoned the missionary position, and only condoned sex for procreation, and certainly not for pleasure except as imitating the creation of Jesus and his world of salvation.

What we should be doing is celebrating black culture for freeing us from the tyranny of idiotic Abrahamic hatred of the body, the separation of mind and body, and human sexuality. Even menstruation has remained hated as being an impure, unclean, and an unholy aspect of women. The current distaste for blood certainly comes from this and is just as horrible, or worse, as the Mayan and Aztec love of blood as a life force and the willingness to slaughter many to release it to public view and use–but at least they recognized blood as a positive life force. Hating blood is to hate yourself. Germaine Greer famously said women can’t be free until they have tasted their own menstrual blood. The social fears of exposing menstrual blood or even the time of menstruation is pure misogyny. A more sane response would be to celebrate menses and praise women for their capacity. Let them have rewards and support during these times! Let us be thankful for this ability.

The same for dancing, music, and enthusiasm. The WASP, Catholic, and Jewish celebration of seriousness and suffering as definitive of acceptable culture was not defeated until exposure to other peoples and cultures that celebrated this life rather than hating it. Even those who insist they are only spiritual and not religious, or even secular, often maintain these Calvinist tendencies. The near universal separation of the body and mind has an unhealthy hegemony in our society. This conflict in feminism is best seen as the constant debate on whether women who display their sexuality are sluts or forerunners of the revolution. Is it slut shaming or pandering to the purience of misogyny? Women who use sex are praised because they become successful and hated because they used sexuality to get there. We see the same in racism. Is the adaptation of other features an enabling of imperialism or an acceptance of the value of what they do?

The reaction to every derived culturalism as appropriation takes us the wrong direction. Hegel’s dialectic showed progress was accomplished by thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. What is new is discovered, rejected, and then made normative. There would be no progress unless we were exposed to what is different, found to be useful, and then used to go forward.

Rather than castigation that new culture is stolen we should be celebrating the exposure and adaption as creating  a better society. We do it in technology and science. If a scientist finds new knowledge or develops new technology  we do not curse the adaptation as appropriation but are thankful for its discovery and utility. How odd it would be if we (hypothetical we) hated algebra just because it was stolen from the Islamic concepts of variables, the infinite, and the amount called zero. No, we can’t do algebra because that’s Islamic. No, we can’t celebrate sexual expression because that’s African. No, we can’t celebrate the body because that’s nonAbrahamic. No, we can’t celebrate women’s sexuality because that’s not Western. No, we can’t celebrate ebullient music, expressive dance, and call and response musical structure because that came from slaves. No, we can’t adapt the governance of the Iroquois Confederation because that’s Native American.

The balkanization and ghettoizing of what is valuable because it came from slaves or other people we oppressed or simply the other creates cultural stagnation and maintenance of the evil of the originators of the change. That the originators continue the hatred the others created by dissing all of to as appropriation allows them to fetishize their otherness, rather than acknowledging they contributed greatly to the progress of society, often on a global scale. It continues the separation of cultures such that the other is always the other to be kept separate.

It may be helpful to state that reparations have not been made or that evil still exists against the other but it would be better to celebrate their contributions and reward them for their rather than say let’s get rid of the contribution because it came from an other. We can easily say slavery is wrong, wrong, wrong without eliminating the contributions of slaves from society at large. I would rather reward African culture for changing our society than say we should never have had that contribution and will not use what is useful because it wasn’t discovered or created by the hegemonic culture.

image source and here

Jim Newman,

Is Religion Disappearing?

religion disappearingLawrence Krauss says religion will disappear in a generation. A decade or so Daniel Dennett said religion would be pretty well gone by now. Others say a critical mass will cascade into rejection. Even the best minds are not able to analyze large numbers well, and fall prey to optimism bias. It is easy to compress tremendous amounts of information into neat stories and small numbers–the logic is quick and the implementation is slow. These stories in our heads sound so good we fall prey to them. Oprah implied a similar thing saying that we would just have to survive some racists. Many victims of racism hold onto their history not only as a fetish but as motivation to continue change in a better but not best world.

What we need to do is present comparative religion as a bunch of interesting historical anecdotes, and show the silly reasons why they did what they did,” Krauss said at an Aug. 29 dinner presentation on cosmology and education at the Victorian Skeptics Cafe in Melbourne, Australia, in response to a question about religion being taught in schools. The video of his response was uploaded on Monday to YouTube.

Dennett also famously said comparative religion should be taught in schools. Cynics have noted that how comparative religion classes would be taught makes all the difference. In a less threatening example consider the desire to teach English. Previous to Common Core, the school standard was to teach a canon of literature with critical analysis. Now the intent is to teach more nonfiction with critical analysis. Just how do we control how the education unfolds?

Quality education is difficult. Having been in technical education publications for a couple of decades I can attest to how difficult it is to teach even basics to everyone equally. Even something simple. Yesterday, my daughter asked me what all the symbols on her digital camera meant. It has programmed settings, custom settings, and a fully automatic setting, for essentially two variables, aperture and shutter speed (ISO or sensitivity is also in there but I left that out for now). Yet these two variables affect depth of focus, ability to capture speed of movement, darkness of final image, and more. When I finished she said she understood it and noted that a relative, a Phd educator and psychologist, hadn’t succeeded before. I asked whether it was the iteration–maybe the second time just took. No, it was the explanation she said.

My high school daughter brings home these huge history texts and shows me her tests which I suspect most adults would fail. Years ago while living on a boat I tried to teach my spouse electricity. The difference between voltage, amperage, and resistance never ever clicked. Yet, I agree that anyone can learn math, music, physics, or pretty much whatever. What kills the process is the focus of instruction, the motivation of the student, and the variable of time needed to learn.

How many adults would completely fail most of their Junior High School courses if given tests now? I often see posts on how the majority of Americans couldn’t pass a US Naturalization test. How often do we read of people who don’t even know the three branches of their government? The joke of not understanding how to attach a DVD player? Educators often discuss the exercise of education as being more helpful than the content. You don’t have to remember the details but if you know how to analyze or lean you can apply that elsewhere–as opposed to the banking system of education where you learn facts that can be useful later.

For these reasons many prefer stories and tactile education to get the point across. The issue here is stories are just that stories–whether it’s the Big Band or the hand of creation. Whether they are true or not is irrelevant. Whether you say different religions are all sacred or just social anecdotes is unimportant. They are just stories. It is essentially this bias that caused many people to consider ideas as separate from reality or to say there is no reality and all is idea, in the head. Whatever we think or learn comes across as a story and its relation to the world is tenuous at best. Jacobsen, in the article cited above, concurs (but places this fact in respect to religion alone).

“It’s not about believing dumb things that are false,” he says, “It’s about a quest for human meaning and purpose. A lot of times that quest is expressed in the form of stories.”

Of course those stories could be of reason, science and logic.

Nassim Taleb writes that the issues in the Levant have near nothing to do with religion and all to do with culture and culture clash. The religious discussion is just a means of talking about modernity, European secularism, and social autonomy. For example, many men don’t go to war because they want virgins or some such, they go because they want something vital and important in their lives. They maybe even talk about the virgins or some such but it’s really about vitality, self worth, and identity.

This is reinforced by recent reports of Westerners of all ilk leaving their countries to join ISIS. I have met many young US men that want to go to war or even become mercenaries simply because they want to increase a sense of self value and social value–to do something that seems valuable and vital. As well as many of them saying they want to fight. Some love combat. One young man who worked for me tested at the top of the ability tests but chose infantry so he could fight. He loved fighting and not harming people vitiated the honesty of competition in his mind–why learn martial arts if they aren’t martial? The military itself discusses the value of war to test themselves and weapons which cannot be met in simulation.

I don’t fully agree with Taleb just as I don’t fully agree that overpopulation or economics causes the immediate motivations of people but it is clear that neither  survival or education are going to be effective as we wish. It’s just the only way without resorting to full on oppression.

Look at how some say honesty is a value beyond compare but others say we all live lies by necessity and it’s counterproductive to insist on honesty. An example of how we use history is the  big lie many use to justify removing slavery because it wasn’t effective. Slaves were slow, dumb, and died early because abuse kills ability. The truth is beating the crap out of someone actually does make them work a lot harder than promising them labor wages. The abuse must continue for it to work. It’s a psychological truth that people run from fear faster than they run to reward. Yet, we went to remove any justification for slavery for fear of its return even if in a historical narrative as anecdote. Relate that to modern economic structures where people work not really for love but because you can’t live in this world without being employed. The lie is to think if you work at something you love that justifies that you have to work is benevolent.

The lie, or story, has to fail in practice and the development of relationships are the most effective means of creating change.

Jim Newman,

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,

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,

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,