Class Warfare Blog

July 23, 2016

Ah, Ha! Check This Out!

I have been working my way through a book (Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay) in which the author addresses how to meet the needs of god-fearers naturally which are now being met by “god.” What I was struck with is how in each psychosocial need believing in a god was a shortcut, a lazy way to a conclusion. (I once joked that a fundamentalist biology textbook would have a simple answer book for all of the listed exercise, namely “The correct answer is a. God did it.”) And in the background of my thoughts was “well, what can you expect from effing human beings.” But . . . in the vein of “seek and you will find” I encountered a brand new Veritasium video that answered my question.

Veritasium is an English-language educational science channel on YouTube created by Derek Muller who is a fricking brilliant, absolutely amazing science communicator (originally from Australia and Canada) although he now lives in L.A. (no accounting for taste, eh?). He is so very good I support his video making through Patreon.

This topic of this short video is cognitive ease, which describes the psychological aspect of our makeup in which the easier something is to take in or the more frequently we see something, the more likely we are to like it or think it is true or paint it as benign or even good. And there are plausible reasons why we evolved to have this “ability.”

Cognitive ease and its opposite cognitive strain explain a great deal of the behavior of god-fearers and the rest of us, too.

Check it out: The Illusion of Truth

 

July 22, 2016

Morals Are . . .

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:44 am
Tags: , , ,

I am almost finished reading Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay which I have mentioned before. The author makes several novel points (the existence of God debate is over, they lost) and is urging us to shift the focus of anti-theism onto addressing how to naturally meet the needs of god-fearers which are now being met by “god,” that is meeting those needs via nature.

My intent was to write a proper review when I finished but I don’t thing that is possible as there is way too much meat on this bone to gnaw off in one sitting, so I am going to have to treat the various psychosocial needs that religion addresses one at a time. This time I will address “morality.”Cover of Everybody is Wrong About God

The linchpin of this discussion is a question so often asked by theists, namely, “How can you have morality without God?” The author points out the word “God” does not refer to a system of morals described in scripture, which would be problematic at best. The word “God” in this question is actually a stand-in for “morals.” What they are really asking is “How can you have morality without morals?” In the theistic mind, morals and God are synonymous. So, a godless atheist is automatically amoral and because theists aren’t accepting of their biological natures, they assume atheists are ravening animals without restrictions like bars or at least a leash.

Having this equivalence as part of your makeup is a great shortcut. One doesn’t have to have ever thought about morality and how one should act in society. If one is a god-fearer, that is all that is needed. One is automatically a moral person and everyone else in the “club” has been screened and pre-qualified for the same criterion. The fact that most people are fairly moral helps to sustain this delusion. The fact that our prisons are crammed full of theists doesn’t undermine it because, well, they are not “true” theists.

Atheists pointing out that scriptures are riddled with examples of bad behavior by gods, ranging from the petty to the obscene does no good whatsoever, because “God” has all of this cover created for “Him:” God is all-good, good is all-knowing, god is all-benevolent, and if you get in my face, God is all-powerful and will kick your ass (at a bare minimum kick your ass into Hell after you die). On top of that, theists are taught that they (and so you) cannot question God, so there!

There are consequences to these approaches to morality. The obvious ones are shown in scripture. In Jewish and Christian scripture, Yahweh commands his people not to “kill” then goes about ordering the deaths of millions upon millions of people by his people. Careful inspection of the scriptures indicates that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is really “Thou shalt not commit murder” and that is qualified as “Thou shalt not commit murder of a Yahweh believer.” Whether you quibble or not, the net result is it is okay to kill as long as Yahweh says it is okay. As I have mentioned, this is why we always claim that “God is on our side” whenever we go to war.

Morally, most people would say that killing was most repugnant and would only be acceptable in cases in which one is defending one’s own life or the life of a close family member. Most would prefer that criminals be captured rather than killed at the site of their crime. But once “God” has endorsed a certain kind of killing (by a cleric blessing the troops or a Fatwa being issued), look out.

Part of the psychosocial need on display in most theists, and most people for that matter, is the desire for an absolute morality. And the only absolute morality is one dictated by a god, because otherwise we are limited to human agreements which are changeable. (There is a phrase “You can’t legislate morality” which points mostly to the futility of the effort but also to the underlying feeling that morals need something with more heft to back them up (God!).)

Philosophers have struggled to define or describe an absolute morality and have failed miserably because apparently no such thing exists … except in the minds of theists. For theists “God = morals” and “God is absolute” and voila.

Since theists equate God with morals, if you are without God, you are without morals. This is tough spot for an atheist to be in. The problem here is that too many are looking at morality as being a state or condition. I, on the other hand, rather look at morality as a journey rather than a destination. To be a moral person, there is a process that you must hew to and that is before you take action you evaluate how you feel about the effects of your actions using your moral senses, whatever the heck those are.

Most of us couldn’t define our own morality if our life depended upon it. Most would mumble some version of the Golden Rule: do not do unto others what you would not have done to you. This is a common guideline to morality that has arisen in various cultures over most of human history. It is also vastly incomplete, but as a rule of thumb it works for a great many situations. (As an aside, I prefer this statement over the “Do unto others what you would have done unto you” which is an even worse guideline. If I wanted a massage, should I go out and grab people and start massaging them, to communicate my desire for the same treatment?)

But as people we all have feelings and if we consult them (the morality ones) when we act and act accordingly, then we are behaving as a moral person and hence, we are a moral person. Sure, if you are a psychopath, you may think it is perfectly moral to chop up your mailman and store his pieces in your freezer, and you may think that is okay. But morals are completely unnecessary without a society, so in society we interact and offer corrections to one another regarding our shared morals. Parents teach their children. Adults interact in ways from which they can learn things like “maybe I shouldn’t have let my dog dig up the neighbor’s lawn.” These interactions involve quiet conversations and fist fights and everything in between. The morals that really count are the shared ones. If you think it is immoral to wear clothing made of more than one fiber, you are welcome to that belief. It is harmless for you to enforce that upon yourself. If you try to enforce it upon others, though, you are going to be met with resistance . . . and laughter, and ridicule, and a manifold of other social cues as to bad behavior. If you think it is moral to torture puppies and stake their flayed carcasses out on your front lawn, you are going to find out rather quickly that your neighbors do not share that moral but that they do own pitchforks and torches.

It does no good to have an absolute morality (even if one did exist) if you do not consult and follow it. And since basic morality seems to be shared by almost all around the globe (most people think theft and murder are immoral), scripture is not needed to define it. What is needed is interaction. We are currently undergoing global societal interactions over things like female circumcision and honor killing and rape and sex slavery. In some cultures these are considered acceptable. I suspect as those cultures become more immersed in the global society, those practices will be diminished as being archaic and unacceptable. You need only look at the global standing of women in all cultures to see that change, driven by moral feelings, is possible.

What to do to shift the psychosocial needs of theists off of their religion and onto something natural, I haven’t gotten to quite yet. The author insists, wisely, that he is just starting a conversation (actually steering a pre-existing one) and not trying to solve all of its associated problems. More is coming.

Or Should I Say Purges

In a huge purge following upon the attempted military coup in Turkey, Turkey’s President seems to be remaking that country’s education system. Over 15,000 civil servants in the education ministry alone have been detained, 21,000 teachers have their licenses withdrawn and more than 1,500 university deans have been told to quit their jobs. Academics currently on study missions abroad have been told to return home while those in Turkey are banned from traveling abroad until further notice.

The fact that these numbers are so large has lead some to speculate that hit lists had to have been ready before the attempted coup.

So, a conservative dictatorial political system has decided to purge progressive teachers and strike fear in those who remain to make sure they toe the party line. Why does that sound so familiar?

In this country a small band of wealthy citizens has undertaken a transformation of our public schools more aligned to their party platform (business) and have “convinced” or bribed school officials to spend billions of dollars to replace “failing schools” with better ones. So far, the “better schools” have performed, at best, no better that the “failing schools” they replaced and are often worse, with many clear examples of greed and malfeasance mixed into the efforts. They too strive to purge the ranks of teachers of the “bad” and “incompetent” although they have no way to identify those, so they settle for lists. Even if the lists are rife with mistakes, they do have the effect of cowing those not culled. And maybe teachers unions will be eliminated as a side benefit.

One effort is less subtle, the other more, but are they really different?

July 18, 2016

Original Intent, My Ass

There are many in our society who feel the Constitution should only be interpreted with regard to the “original intent” of the Framers of the Constitution. Most notably the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the entire Southern Baptist Convention of the U.S. are of this ilk.

This choice of a “guide” is merely an exercise in blowing smoke into the eyes of the American public, by claiming a source of knowledge to which they are not privy. It is beyond us, so “move along now, nothing to see here.” Then those people can make up anything they choose to represent the actual intent of the Framers.

I have just started reading “Genius of the People: The Making of the Constitution” by Charles L. Mee Jr., who states in the prologue to his book regarding the various ways of interpreting who the Framers were and why they did what they did:

Even so, in the end, these schools of interpretation fail to convince in one common respect: they all tend to simplify the particularities in search of generalizations – and, in the process, miss the essence of what occurred at the convention. They all come down to a view that the framers of the constitution belonged more or less to one class, and they had more or less one common set of intentions – or one set of biases or goals or interests – and that their labors in the summer of 1787 can be seen as the careful codifying of that set of common intentions into a body of laws.

And yet, when one actually looks at the day-to-day debates during that hot, humid, insect-ridden summer in Philadelphia, such a view simply won’t hold up. Far from there being one set of intentions, there were as many intentions as there were framers. What one sees, in fact, is a group of men who, despite their common background and broad class interests, had myriad diverging appetites, ideals, and interests. They set about disputing with one another, wrangling, losing patience, lashing out, attacking one another, accusing one another of ignorance and inconsistency, or worse, of lack of principle and even of treasonous intent; erupting in anger or simply packing up and leaving town altogether, never to return; warning that certain provisions only could lead eventually to civil war or bring down upon the country some even more calamitous judgment of heaven. By the end of the convention, none of the delegates, not one, was entirely happy with the constitution they had written. Some refused entirely to sign the completed work, and those who did sign signed in varying degrees of reluctance, dismay, anguish, and disgust.”

The key sentence is the last one.

 “By the end of the convention, none of the delegates, not one, was entirely happy with the constitution they had written. Some refused entirely to sign the completed work, and those who did sign signed in varying degrees of reluctance, dismay, anguish, and disgust.”

The Framers had a message for us and a clear one. What they did, as opposed to what they wanted to do, was to compromise, compromise to the point that some thought they had failed, compromise to the point of quitting.

And what is it the advocates of “original intent” want least of all? What is it that conservatives think is treasonous?

Compromise.

The next time I heard someone claiming to being guided by “original intent,” I will reach for my wallet to make sure it is secure and sincerely request the speaker take his original intent and shove it up his ass.

July 15, 2016

Americans Again Fail in International Math Competition, Wait, … Wha?

The rapacious “entrepreneurs” trying to capture American public school funding for their own personal gain through the creation of bogus charter schools have been using flat out dishonesty to wage their campaign against our public schools. The keystone of their argument against our current schools is that the are failing to educate our kids. (Our schools are failing! Our schools are failing!) I wonder how they explain that the USA Team has won this year’s International Mathematics Olympiad in Hong Kong (last year’s, too). The next positions in the team competition were taken by Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, North Korea, Russia, the UK, Hong Kong, and Japan. Plus, two Americans were among the six individuals to make perfect scores in the competition, along with three contestants from Korea and one from China.

I guess all of those high schoolers must have gone to charter schools.

Let’s see:
Ankan Bhattacharya (International Academy East, Troy, Michigan)
Michael Kural (Greenwich High School, Riverside, Connecticut)
Allen Liu (Penfield Senior High School, Penfield, New York)
Junyao Peng (Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science, Princeton, New Jersey)
Ashwin Sah (Jesuit High School, Portland, Oregon)
Yuan Yao (Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire)

Yep, all of those sound like charter schools to me. I expected them to be from high quality public and private high schools, but, yep … charters … wait, … wha?

Hey Gang, I Have an Idea!

Let’s create an institution in which rich people can gamble with our money. If they win, they win and if they lose, we lose! Well, we don’t have to create such a thing, it has been done. We call it the stock markets.

I have written before that we are sold the stock market with a school child-level argument: the stock markets create funds that when invested in businesses, enables those businesses to grow and prosper, something we all share in (increased numbers of good jobs, increased goods at lower prices, etc.). Sounds like a good argument, but unfortunately it is closer to a fairy tale than a foundational principle. Stock markets were no sooner created that they became a game for speculators. And they are now dominated by speculation, speculation that adds nothing to our real wealth but, on occasion, cripples the national or global economy with crashes, busts, bubbles, “corrections” (I love that one), etc.

In a recent column, Paul Krugman, a face for economists around the country, made the following statement regarding the relationship between the stock markets and the economy as a whole:

The truth, in any case, is that there are three big points of slippage between stock prices and the success of the economy in general. First, stock prices reflect profits, not overall incomes. Second, they also reflect the availability of other investment opportunities — or the lack thereof. Finally, the relationship between stock prices and real investment that expands the economy’s capacity has gotten very tenuous.

The key phrase there is “the relationship between stock prices and real investment that expands the economy’s capacity has gotten very tenuous,” in other words, the school kid rationale for why the stock market exists at all (expanding the nation’s economy) doesn’t connect well with the market’s behaviors. And that means the reason they were created no longer applies to why they exist now; they exist now as a speculation game for rich folks. And, they have managed to get the U.S. government to insure their bets as if they were deposits in a secured bank.

So, the question is why are we running a casino for wealthy people, especially people who show a tendency to create financial weapons of mass destruction that fuel financial disasters? Why do we even allow speculators any rein at all?

How effing dumb are we?

PS For those less long of tooth, the title is a riff on a phrase that occurred in almost every Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movie in the 1940’s (and there were a lot of them).

July 13, 2016

Making War on Christianity

There has been this curious meme running about for the last several years that there is a war being waged against Christianity. Let me for the time being confine this feeling to this country (the U.S.) because there are Christians being killed around the globe as part of religious or religion-fueled wars and I don’t want anything from there clouding the issue as it is here.

When I first heard of this phenomenon it was in the form of the bizarre “War on Christmas” floated by Fox (Sic) News organs. Shortly thereafter came the War on Christians and War on Christianity. Whether Fox was the progenitor of both of those I cannot tell, but the meme was certainly taken up by Christian communities and with high dudgeon.

So, where could this have come from? We had many, many years of Culture Wars over abortion, contraception, drugs, crime, racism, and women’s rights but never were these characterized as a War Against Christianity. Why the shift into full-fledged victimhood?

Methinks I may have twigged to the answer.

For many centuries the “godless” and atheists have been publically vilified, especially in this nation’s churches. In our history, states have had laws banning atheists (and, yes, Catholics and Jews and …) from holding political office and special contempt was ladled on scoffing unbelievers. As long as you believed in some god you were closer to “okay” on the social spectrum than abominable atheists. We were called immoral. We were described as being bad parents, bad citizens, and bad people and worse.

Then something changed.

The internet allowed people to make comments without identifying themselves and “lo, it began.” Atheists found community and their voice on the internet and the “New Atheism” was born. It was not born out of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett as so many claim. Atheists have been writing books for centuries, but that is a one-way form of communication. Books are not part of a conversation. The internet allowed discourse.

So, a number of former friends have been shocked to find out I am an atheist and shocked that I have negative (very negative) opinions of Christianity.

I may be “painting with a broad brush” in my denunciations but I am responding to broad brush denunciations of me and others like me. No exclusion was made for atheists who wouldn’t hard a fly or atheists who didn’t eat babies, so I was included (and am still so) in the denunciations of various Christians in churches and public forums, on TV, and yes, on the internet.

Did they think we would not respond? Did they think we wouldn’t fight back? We didn’t in the past, because calling oneself an atheist would cost one one’s job and a great deal more, possibly even one’s life. Freed from those constraints, Christians are finding out what we really think.

And they think we are making war on them, further proof of their false sense of privilege. Hell of a war when the other side does all of the shooting and the responses are in words alone. You can almost hear the umbrage “How dare they, harrumph!”

Well, you can take your umbrage and place it where the sun doesn’t shine. This “war” is just getting started.

July 12, 2016

Random Thoughts on the Psychosocial Needs of God Fearers

I am reading a book about the psychosocial needs of theists (Everybody Is Wrong About God by James A. Lindsay) and the author makes several novel points (the existence of God debate is over, they lost) and is urging us to shift the focus of anti-theism onto addressing how to naturally meet the needs of god-fearers which are now being met by “god,” that is meeting those needs via nature.

Several things have converged over the last couple of days on this topic so, before I have finished the book and can write a proper review, I have some thoughts to share.

One piece I read recently claimed that people who are good at “mental modeling” make more money and get better grades and that part of that process is narrating your life, coming up with theories and making guesses. This is clearly an evolutionarily important skill that is showing up now in a form not originally demonstrated.

Another point that links to the previous is, one I just realized how much easier theism is to accept than reality. If one were to compare the evolution-based human prehistory and history with “God did it” as explanations for why we are what we are at this point on time, you have to be in awe of how much simpler to learn and remember the theist’s explanation is. Then compare how difficult it would be to describe one’s personal morality absent theological frameworks with those who describe their morality as “God.” Again, way simpler. And the god stuff is placed beyond a “Don’t Question” barrier that allows challenges to theist’s thinking to be shrugged off so they do not have to engage in thinking about those subjects. They are “closed.” (“Man cannot know the mind of God,” “God works in mysterious ways,” etc.)

Belief in a god is a shortcut to an acceptable position in our society and allows one to identify one’s “tribe” by simply applying one word labels (Christian = good/safe; atheist = bad/dangerous) to the extend that many non-Christians self-identify as Christians, apparently to get along with their neighbors. Nonbelievers have to expend energy to figure out whether or not to trust someone they just met, etc.

The story goes that our imaginations have a bias. If we think that the rustling in the grass ahead is a lion and we are wrong, the penalty for falsely avoiding that grass is very small. If it is a lion and we scoff at that idea, the penalty for being wrong is severe. So, we are better off being conservative and expecting the worst case scenario.

One of the psychosocial benefits of theism is “agency,” that is it supplies agents or causes for natural phenomena. In our past we had separate gods for lightning and thunder and rain and volcanoes and dark places and the sun and … and now we have only one. Having an idea of what caused “that” is reassuring, I guess, but I have to wonder how reassuring believing in false agencies can be. There is the protection from negative results from being not cautious enough as in the case of the lion in the grass, but there is no predictive ability in “it is God’s will.” Imagine a small family of primitive humans huddling in a cave while the Mother of All Lightning Storms rages just outside of the cave mouth. The children and women are frightened so the man tells a tale of an annual dance of the lightning gods or some other bullshit to sooth their fears. But that dance isn’t on the calendar and no ability to deal with the situation is had. Fast forward to now and we know what lightning is, how it happens, how to predict when it is going to happen, and how to protect ourselves by not standing under tall, wet trees, for instance. Real agency has benefits far exceeding false agency (the lightning god is angry). But real agency takes effort to collect the information, intellectual horsepower to understand it, etc. Theism is short and sweet by comparison (bullshit always is).

We all agree that safety-proofing our children is important. We teach them to treat stovetops as being hot at all times, to be skeptical of strangers, to not eat things they’ve picked up off the ground, etc. One aspect of that is Christian = good/safe; atheist = bad/dangerous. Children learn in church about the evils of drugs, sex, and the theory of evolution.

The above mentioned book makes the claim that all of the psychosocial needs of theists can be met by natural means and no supernatural means are needed, but in my mind the critical element is can we show that to them so that it is as easy to grasp as “God”? I don’t think so, especially since everybody is allowed to fashion their own idea of what “God” means (which makes discussions of “God” a fool’s errand) and, well, once you put some phenomenon at your God’s feet, it inherits some of that god’s unchallengability. (Has there ever been a religion that urges its followers to think for themselves and ask lots of questions? I am aware of many that say “Shut up, don’t ask; believe, have faith, give us money,” but none of that kind.)

Laziness is beneficial in many, many ways but intellectual, even “spiritual,” laziness (science = hard, magic = easy) may doom our future.

Shoddy Research on Conservatives v. Liberals

I was just reading letters written to the NYT regarding an op-ed piece (There Are Conservative Professors. Just Not in These States by Samuel J. Abrams July 1, 2016) in which the author makes some interesting claims about the nature of today’s college professors, the primary ones being in the following quotes:

In 1989, roughly 40 percent of professors were moderate and 40 percent were liberal; the remaining 20 percent were conservative. By 2014, liberal identifiers jumped to 60 percent, with moderates declining to 30 percent and conservatives to just 10 percent.

But research I’ve conducted since then has shown that the ranks of academia have shifted sharply leftward over the last 25 years.

You can see that the good author’s research involved what is called self-identification studies and “clues” they were able to eek out of the participants as to their “liberal” or “conservative” status.

Not apparently addressed was the huge change in what it meant to be a member of either constituency over that time. In the 1980’s and earlier in the 70’s, 60’s, and 50’s, each political party had liberal and conservative “wings.” By today’s standards of what a “conservative” is, Republican politicians like Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, and even Ronald Reagan would not qualify to be “conservatives.”

The Republican Party of today would have been the “far right” conservatives of the Republican Party of the 60’s and 70’s. The Democratic Party of today would have been considered part of the “pro-business conservative wing” of that same time.

The Democrats have jettisoned working class people and unions and have embraced the upper 20% of the wealth spectrum and have become the meritocracy party, another part of the “blame the victim” movement. (Black people don’t need unions fighting for their jobs, they need a college education so they can be professionals, too.)

I can’t imagine any studies conducted over the past four to five decades into “conservatives” v. “liberals” could be corrected for the changing definitions of those terms. To call oneself a “liberal” today is like calling oneself anything from a socialist to a centrist yesterday. Basically all of the professional politicians moved way over to the right, leaving a huge vacuum for liberals to expand into. President Obama has been tagged as a socialist when he isn’t even a strong liberal … of the earlier sort. Such have perceptions changed.

The goal posts have been shifted … onto another playing field.

 

 

July 11, 2016

The NRA Between a Rock and a Hard Place Shows Its True Spinelessness

Filed under: Morality — Steve Ruis @ 8:43 am
Tags: , , ,

Imagine a white man pulled over for a traffic violation who was in possession of a gun, legally. The officer, seeing the gun, instead of asking for license and registration shouts “Gun, gun!” and blazes away killing the driver. What would the NRA say?

Or imagine a white man pulled over for a traffic violation and the cop did ask for license and registration, but the driver—with his hands on the wheel—tells the cop that he has a permitted firearm before reaching for his wallet and the cop shouts “Gun, gun!” and blazes away killing the driver. What would the NRA say?

We now know what the NRA said in the cases in which legal possessors of firearms were killed because of that possession … in the cases in which the drivers were Black.

Nothing.

The letters N-R-A stand for No Reason at All.

The NRA is not about gun rights. It is about making money for the gun and ammo manufacturers and sucking up to the mostly conservative gun buyers in this country.

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