Saturday, March 21, 2015

"Why Don't You Admit It, You're a Christian!"

It was a demand, not a question.   And it wasn't made to elicit information but as a means of trying to discredit what I was saying.  In the bizarre conventions that govern conventional thinking in our alleged enlightenment,  it is discrediting of what someone says if they are Christians while it is not held to be discrediting if someone is an atheist, an agnostic, a Jew, a Buddhist, etc.   It's like the widespread practice in the media and in courtrooms to exclude opponents of the death penalty from juries and even a place in the discussion of state killing, only even more extreme in its consequences.

It is an unstated feature of that convention that atheism is some kind of guarantee of ideological neutrality and based in honesty when a reading of the literature of atheism and its presence in politics in history shows that is entirely more laughable than the far more modest claim of papal infallibility, and far more piously asserted and held than that dogma which most Catholics I know don't really believe.   Atheism is a prerequisite for membership in an influential elite that has its own set of group interests and self-claimed privileges.

Considering that the  college educated, especially elite college-educated and Ivy League class, "enlightened" ones who seem to dominate so much of the discussion must, by the numbers they claim to live by, could constitute no more than about a tenth to a about a thirty second part of the population - depending on how tightly that circle is drawn, the academic-media share that draws it should hardly wonder why the vast majority of people don't find them credible.   If you begin by ignoring about 85% of the population (more or less) you shouldn't be surprised when they have no problem ignoring you back, disregarding what you say and coming up with alternatives to pay attention to.   I'm only sorry that due to the foolish and false propaganda that identifies the "enlightened" media and academia with liberalism that the real left hasn't generated those alternatives in the numbers and of the size that we need.  Perhaps when Christian liberals realize that the New York Times, MSNBC, NPR and others are neither liberals nor that they respect us*, we will generate the same kind of infrastructure that the right has.

That the pseudo-left, even as it is critical of the corporate media, nevertheless, practices merely a variation on its real politique, materialist, scientism, only shows it has provided no real alternative to it.    Even the best of that, The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, etc. has failed in that way and show no sign of improvement.   The publications of the liberal Christian  churches and Jewish groups are a lot more promising for the future, I'd guess.


But I am going to answer the question why I don't declare myself as a Christian or a member of any denomination.

The problem isn't that I don't find the words of Jesus or large parts of the Christian tradition to be convincing, absolutely, and confirmed in looking at subsequent history and according to my personal experience, it's that I can't choose from among the various alternatives.   No human institution is going to contain all of the truth and no human institution isn't going to present problems of error, corruption and other vicissitudes of the human condition.  Any choice to identify with one of them might be a very good choice but it, in itself, wouldn't entirely satisfy even my partial understanding of what was needed.   And I'm not entirely convinced that good choices among those would be limited to Christian denominations.

The problem is that there are so many good religions to join.   I'm considered by the Catholic church to be a member of that church since I was baptized into it, received communion and confirmation into it and have never done anything that would warrant them kicking me out.   It's the church of my parents and grandparents, a tradition I have a lot of respect for even as I have enormous problems with both its history and its present day practices.   I do like Pope Francis, even as I disagree with him over such questions as women being ordained and other basic issues.  He's a great step in a better direction that his two immediate predecessors.   But I also like the United Church of Christ, one of the great liberal institutions in my area of the country, which I only grow in respect for but I don't think I'd feel entirely at home there, either.   I've attended the local Friend's meeting and like a lot about that, though I find some of the members of it entirely too unitarian for my liking, in thought but even more so in narrow minded dislike of the kind I talked about above.   I haven't gone to the monthly programmed Quaker meeting a town over from them,  I suspect they would be quite a different group but don't know.   I was, several years back, attracted to the "Conservative" Jewish congregation nearest to me but the very nice Rabbi pointed out, it was based on a kind of community that I would probably find both geographically and temperamentally hard to really join into. He is a very wise man, though younger than me instead of older.    Episcopalians have the best music and an inclusive clergy, also a lot in common with Roman Catholicism, but they're not an exact fit either.   A lot of them are inclined towards the very thing I mentioned above but I think the ones I know are far more likely to take what Jesus said seriously than they were during most of their history.  The same for a lot of the liberal Christians, reduced in numbers, perhaps, but far more inclined to practice justice over promotion of rigid doctrine.   The law kills but the spirit gives life.  

I will throw in that I very seriously studied Theravada Buddhism for a number of years and while I have enormous respect for much of it, especially the ethical holdings and those Buddhists who take those very seriously and recognize that their meditation practice is one of the great gifts to the human culture and something that Christians could benefit from studying, adapting and practicing, I found its metaphysical basis unconvincing and its relative lack of an emphasis on justice unsatisfying.   That it was based on an admirable rejection of the developing caste system of India makes that rather mystifying to me.   I practice a form of meditation derived from Buddhist discoveries but in a context of the Jewish-Christian tradition that I doubt would please most Buddhists but which I find works.

So, I think I'll remain unchurched, more or less.  I won't even call myself a "Christian" because so many people think they know what that means and what they mean has nothing to do with what it would mean if I used the word.  I would include a lot of Christians in that because so much of the claim on the word has nothing to do with Jesus or the Jewish prophetic tradition, the law or anything to do with the greatest of all innovations in that line, justice and equality.   I think a lot of those who claim the term for themselves are liars and hypocrites and do nothing but discredit the word by their actions.  I don't think it would be useful to take the word on while that's one of its most commonly misused denotations.   Though that was what the sci-ranger, atheist blog boy wanted it to be understood as meaning.   I have noted a number of times that they and the "Christian" right have a lot more in common than either of them would like to admit.

*  Not to mention that they don't deserve any confidence or respect either.  But I might get into one of the very emblems of that cultural elite, Thomas Friedman's call to now support ISIS and the fact that he can still work in that media more than a dozen years after his support for the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around such an enormous symbol of the total decadence and dishonesty that represents.   And he's only one of those who could be chosen.

Update:   About two hours after I posted this, this interview with Garry Wills (not to be confused at all with George F. Will) on the past, present and future of the Catholic Church was posted.   He notes many interesting things about how, contrary to what traditionalists and neo-atheists like to claim about the monolithic, dictatorship they represent as the Catholic Church, that it is a far different entity.   I like his point about how bishops will say things they know the current pope will like and not say things they know he'll dislike as a means of advancing themselves - for good or bad depending on the pope - but that Catholics have a long history of just ignoring what Popes say when it doesn't match reality.

I also would point out that he expresses the hope that the Catholic church becomes more Protestant, which sort of goes along with what I'm saying about not choosing among the various ones because they all have their good points.  I think the decline of the old liberal churches (a decline, itself, over sold) has been far more of a disaster for liberalism in the United States than the wise refusal of the various anti-religious cults.   I'm hoping that trend continues as the new atheism gets ever older and more revolting.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Follow Up On E-o

To learn the language years ago, I used the book Teach Yourself Esperanto, the only one of the Teach Yourself books I ever used that actually did what it purported to.   I used the old edition of it that has been superseded by a newer edition that is reportedly as good as the old one.   The companion dictionary by the well known linguist John Wells,  is pretty good as a first dictionary.

I also use a free program called Esperantilo (Esperanto tool) to type the language with the accents.  If you type the letter you want to accent with an "x" after it, the program puts an accent on the letter.  As the language doesn't use "x" it's no problem to use it for that.

Since the language is absolutely phonetic, pronounced according to the spelling of the words, once you know how to pronounce a word you'll never have to guess at the spelling.  Same for the grammar, which has no irregular verbs, grammatical genders, etc.  You can learn to fully conjugate every verb in about ten minutes of practice.  Far less time than you would take to learn one irregular verb in most national languages.

You can find lots of books online in pdf format on sites such as Project Gutenberg and elsewhere.  No one ever got rich from writing a book in Esperanto so there isn't that motive to not let them go into the public domain. There are also quite a few Youtubes in the language as well as podcasts, some of them very good and up to date.  Though I doubt it is the subject of enough ideological interest to draw the same kind of distorted "editing," my general skepticism of the Wikipedia project makes me a little reluctant to point out that there is quite a large Esperanto Wikipedia, some of the articles I've looked at contain useful information and links.  If nothing else, they can provide free reading material.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jaspar Blom Quartet - Knor

Jasper Blom - tenor sax
Jesse van Ruller - gitar
Frans van der Hoeven - bass
Martijn Vink - drums

A Language Criminal Too Though Not A Member Of Any Club

There's been a rash of English chauvinism flying around this week, from a biologist who gave a Ted Talk talking about English was going to be the one dominant language, to high school students mocking and being jerks about the Pledge of Allegiance recited in Arabic during a Foreign Languages Week. And a few more in between.   There's always a lot of opinion about foreign languages in the United States, generally the ignorance of those is inversely proportional to the number of languages spoken or read by the one spouting it. I think some of them actually might count as a being able to speak less than one, their ignorance is so marked.

As it happens, I've been re-reading a book about the topic of language-ethnic chauvinism and how it can lead to violence and oppression.   I'd like to post an excerpt but the book, Kroata Milita Noktlibro by the very fine Croat writer Spomenka Štimec is in Esperanto.  That's the reason I got curious about jazz in Croatia last weekend.  The book is her "night-journal" of life in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.   Perhaps I'll try my hand at translating from it sometime but I'm not very good at translating because I'm not that good at writing English.   You could probably learn enough of the language to read the book before I could manage a translation I'd feel comfortable with posting.   It is, by a long, long shot, the quickest and easiest language I've ever attempted and one which you can actually attain genuine fluency in within a year.

If you wanted to try, there are excellent resources online to learn the language.  One of those is by a group which includes Spomenka Štimec who produced the "Zagreb Method" beginning with a very short textbook based on the most often used words based on a large study of recorded conversations by fluent speakers. From reports of classes using the text (the video shows a skit performed after the second class of one of those) it does, actually, give you more language fluency in 12 short lessons than you will get in any first year language course I ever took.  I don't know if this source is exactly legal but it has sound recordings (not hi-fi but usable) of the short texts and links to further parts of the course.   There are other places where you can find it in pdf form online but without the sound recording.  If you work the course you can go on to other parts of it, including Štimec's quite fluent but easy reader, Esperanto ne Estas nur Lingvo and an adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper story, The Bravo, La Sentimulo, which is an interesting choice but one you would have little trouble reading if you went through the lessons and the follow up reader.

Another popular path you could easily take after going through the Zagreb course is based on some easy books by the truly great master of simple language, the professional, United Nations, translator and psychoanalyst, the late Claude Piron.  The novella Gerda Malaperis uses, if I remember correctly, fewer than 500 word roots, introduced gradually,  but by the end the writing is so fluent you hardly notice that it is simple language.  Some learners use it as a first text.  There are lots and lots of sources for it online as a text (I think Piron released rights to it but I'm not sure).  Here's one with the complete text and with a link to the vocabulary for each chapter.  There are other sites with a more easily printable version.  There is a pretty good sound recording of it being read, and a movie version that isn't too shabby either.    There are a number of question-answer courses centered around it online.   Piron also wrote a rather surreal companion book, mostly as series of flow of consciousness monologues using the same vocabulary, gradually introduced at the same rate,  Lasu Min Paroli Plus, it's kind of wacky but has its own weird charm.   He also wrote a follow up book, Ili Kaptis Elzan! which I haven't read.   He was famous for his use of limited vocabulary to write entire books that are fluent in a way that nothing I ever saw written in Basic English or even the Special English of the Voice of America is.   His own website gives a number of those, such as the book Vere au Fantasie,   His website also provides audio files of some of those being read, including a few chapters from Lasu Min Paroli Plu.

Another resource you might be interested in is an old book by a Dr. Benson, his Universala Metodo.   The first part of the book is a course based on simple illustrations.  You might not want to depend on it to learn the basic language but it is a good supplement.   Someone has read a number of those in a series of Youtubes,  or you might want to copy and or print out the pages in pdf format from the Edmonton Esperanto Society website.  The introductory course pages end on 92, followed by a reader.   I think you could learn the language from it but it's a bit old fashioned.   I don't think it has been turned into pdf's anywhere but the old Practical Course in Esperanto by Frenc Szilagy, also based on cartoons,  is usable, if rather old fashioned,  perhaps offensive in some of its c. 1930s humor.

There are lots of other basic Esperanto courses online, those from the site Lernu! are popular, though I've never looked at them closely.   There are lots of other resources for reading, listening to and reading the language online.  If you want more of a temptation for trying, you can watch the (in)famous pre- Star Trek performance of William Shatner in the actually kind of interesting, moody, and pretty weird period movie Incubus.  The pronunciation isn't too bad and you can see he was, actually, a pretty good actor.

That should get you going, if you want to.  If you want more suggestions, let me know.

You Should Try Reading The Thing Because You Don't Know How The Story Goes And What It Means

Considering how the bright young people today don't realize that you have to know what you're talking about in order to make a valid point in argument, it shouldn't be surprising to find out that they also don't know that you have to hold to a single standard of judgement or your argument doesn't cohere with even the most basic rules of logical argument.  What you're claiming about "Christians sacrificing humans" on the basis of the story of Abraham and Isaac only shows how the educational system and the real basis of what passes as erudition today, what you absorb through TV, movies, popular novels and the internet, has made you irrational.   You are living the dark age that you mock and ridicule.

It is one of the most bizarre things I've learned from being online how transparently the rules are rigged in the opposite of reason or justice.   You don't like me bringing up the evidence of the bog burials of those sacrificed by the pre-Christian Pagan folk of Europe as evidence that they practiced ritual slaughter rather often and that what documentary evidence we have confirms they doid so as part of the mandated religio-political practices they maintained, apparently for a very log period, based on the dating of well preserved corpses and remains available through the chemistry of bodies submerged in peat.   There is no way to claim that such ritual sacrifices were rare or that they were some kind of outliers from fanatical cults.  The practice was, apparently, so well ingrained and the priestly class who almost certainly mandated and likely performed the murders involved could choose their victims from the upper classes, perhaps even the political ruling class, if the analyses of some of those bodies is correct.   That rap on Druidism and other forms of pre-Christian paganism is as solid as it is possible to have.   They weren't the peaceful nature worshipers who liked to prance around in the forest worshiping trees and rocks and making monuments to the sun, friends to flora and fauna, harming none in the process, they were pretty savage and ruthless in many of the only documented practices we have of them.

As I said, there is no way to say that human as well as animal sacrifice was not fully sanctioned by those religions.  The same is not true for Christianity, the many sins of those who took political power under a cross cannot square those with the words of Jesus or his earliest followers which forbade the taking of life, the oppression of others and the inequality that is necessary for those to happen.  That following those teachings will make you the mark of anyone who chooses to rob you isn't only certain, it is contained in the teachings that constitute the basis of Christianity.  I dare you.   Look at Luke chapter 6, verses 27 through 36 and tell me how those can be anything but a condemnation of the entire range of sins attributed to the political and religious authorities, the definitive rap against Christianity.   The difference is that the people who did those things were violating the teachings of a man they claim to believe spoke with the authority of God.

That's the opposite from the human sacrifices of Paganism, in nothing I've ever seen does anything in Pagan literature indicate those were a violation of the wishes of their gods.

Which brings me to your point.  As so often happens you bring up the story of Abraham and Issac as an example of "Christian human sacrifice".  I know that anyone who does that has not performed the most basic obligation of someone who talks about something, that you read what the story says.   Here it is, from chapter 22 of Genesis (in the Hebrew scriptures, by the way, not the part of the Bible attributable to Christians).

22 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill[a] his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

Revised Standard Version

You'll find it's pretty much the same in any version you'll find.

It was a test in which God had never intended that Isaac be sacrificed but to see if Abraham was willing to give up everything, including his legitimate son and heir, his link to the future, to God.   If you look around the Mediterranean, you'll be hard put to find people who were less inclined to practice human sacrifice than the people who believed that story  was true, instead of the allegorical legend that I would think most Christians would believe it to have been.  Human sacrifice was never practiced by any Christians I've ever heard of and it would be against everything in the Bible I ever read.

The only exception is that story of the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter in the book of Judges and no where in that story does God ask Jephthah to sacrifice a person, that's something Jephthah promised in return for victory in battle.  That was a result of human choices.  It's certainly not compatible with anything else found in the Hebrew scriptures or anything at all in the Christian scriptures.   Like just about everything else in the blood soaked book of Judges, I doubt it's much more than legend, a warning about making rash vows to God in return for victory in battle.   You can contrast it with the very similar story in Greek Pagan mythology of Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter, Iphegeia, the gods were totally involved in that one.  The gods mandated that he give his daughter to be sacrificed or he would be defeated by the Trojans.  Clearly he valued victory over his daughter, but it wasn't his idea to begin with.

Of course, if Jephthah had been following the teachings of Jesus, he wouldn't have been warring to begin with.  The earliest followers of Jesus were notably pacifists.  Too bad they hadn't remained so, they had to ignore his teachings to do the things later ones did.


Having taken time in the last hour to read through the incredibly bloody and incredibly confusing and complicated Book of Judges, I think there are useful things to take from it.  First and foremost is a warning against libertarianism. After recounting the disastrous, violent, depraved 400 years + it purports to cover,  the final verse says:

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

Well, if what happens in the book, even with the continual intervention of God, is any indication as to what happens when "every man does what is right in his own eyes" then it's a really bad advertisement for the libertarian nonsense that is so popular among so many Bible thumpers these days.

About the only bright spot in the book is the identification of Deborah as a righteous judge.  So, one for equal rights.  And Deborah isn't exactly perfect, either.

The book is a series of legends of a really bad period in the memory of the Israelites told in a later period of disaster (a lot of people think it was compiled during the Babylonian exile).   One of the footnotes to the story about Jephthah's sacrifice of his daughter said it was to make the point that they were so corrupt in that period that they were even taking up the Pagan practice of sacrificing their children, as the Molochites were condemned for.   Just about no one comes off well in the book, its heroes are a pretty bad lot.   Everyone is killing someone else in it.

As to the lessons of what happens when there is no civil authority, you can take note of what happened when the people had had enough and they asked Samuel to find them a king to stop the chaos that was so oppressive.   In that book God has Samuel warn them that a king would only be as good as they were and that any king would pretty likely end up oppressing them.

10 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle[b] and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Something that is as much today's news as it was back then in country after country, including Israel, as this weeks elections show.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hate Mail - If We Need A Science of Mental Health That's Not The Way To Make One

The problem of mental illness, dangerous irrational behavior, dangerous to those who are ill and those who are secondary victims,  personality flaws, etc. are certainly not going to be addressed scientifically by pretending that things like the TRIM Inventory are scientific.   That is especially the case when the accepted sample sizes in so much of what gets published as psychology couldn't even come up with information as to how a larger population - not to mention the entire world human population they pretend to address - would even answer the thing.  If you are to believe that clearly bogus science is effective in the world then you have not done anything to support the standards necessary to even comprise science, even less so its practices that have produced reliable information and useful things in the past.  And the work I addressed yesterday is hardly of therapeutic value.

Psychology, what is called the social sciences, are not science, they either can't or don't address the phenomena they pretend to address with sufficiently rigorous practices for the results to be science.  That is shown in how frequently schools of psychology rise to prominence, dominate for a time only to crash to the ground when another school overcomes it on the basis of its inadequacy.

The current fad of psychology pasting its standard on the science of evolution might sustain the current regime for a while longer, doing great damage to actual biological science in the process, would be my guess.  But since they can't even do the first thing necessary to address human minds on an evolutionary time scale, that begins with impossible claims.  Psychology, even in its clearly inadequate means of collecting data today depends absolutely on people saying what they are thinking.   The minds to do that on an evolutionary time scale are many millennia passed from articulating what's going on in them, no "data" that the proposed study would depend on will ever be available to the would-be "evolutionary" psychologist.

In lieu of that the "science" makes things up, the "Just-so" stories in Stephen Jay Gould's critique, which are likely to tell us entirely more about the story tellers and the peers they tell them for than they do about the minds of people none of them knew, living in cultural contexts that are likely to be about as far removed from the lives of university based social scientists as it would be possible to imagine.   The central faith of the evolutionary psychologist is that they can do that accurately based on extrapolation founded in their faith in some materialistic uniformity of reality when there is every reason to suspect their belief is an illusion based in their professional culture and its ideological predilections.  It is the same illusion that masks the total inadequacy of their scientific methodology.

It is not surprising that instead of refuting or confronting social, gender, class inequality that evolutionary psychology seems to pretty much confirm existing biases and inequality of distributions in wealth and power.  I don't think it's any accident that it arose in the 1970s, just as the conservatives were rising and overtaking the short and all too modest successes of liberalism from the 1930s through the 1960s.  While it might not have been any kind of plan in that, the instruction of college students with a psych-soc requirement in their degree program about "gene selfishness" and people in the biological sciences finding that they were required to uphold the new order would have certainly had the basis of their liberalism disconfirmed by it.

Conservatives, just as those a century earlier found, the latest science based on natural selection was good news for them.   There's a reason David Brooks and his like love evo-psy and the corporate media promotes it.  Traditional gender role differences, racial inequality, even national and ethnic stereotype were being supported "scientifically" and they certainly welcomed the news.   There would even be muted calls for eugenics being revived, as, in fact, it had never been totally done in by the lessons of recent history.   That evolutionary psychology failed in the clearest of the tasks necessary to establish it as even a pseudo-science, examining the minds and behaviors of ancient people and relating behavior to success in reproduction, was not to be mentioned when the results were so welcome to an establishment that would support the effort and so many grad students needed a new angle to hook their theses and dissertations on.  It doesn't even do what conventional psychology did and pretend to gather that data from the minds that were the alleged focus of its study.

The whole thing is a castle built on sand, it is useless in addressing mental illness, it supports a political system which has destroyed even the previous mental health system, leaving the tragically ill to die on the street and which has replaced mental hospitals for the prison system where so many of the mentally ill end up.   We have reverted, on such science, to the 18th century.   I think that a psychology that incorporates the survival of those who are fit and the death of those who are not could be expected to have those results.  And that is what evolutionary psychology proposed to be.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Irish Were A Lot Better Off Without The Druids

Of course it only seemed fair to a 20th-21st century liberal that I was to feel sorry for those poor Druids who were superseded by the Christians in Ireland.  I guess we're supposed to regret their extinction like they were some species of animals destroyed by over hunting or loss of habitat.

At least that's how I felt until I read that a large number of the of the "bog people," corpses preserved by being submerged in peat bogs, were the victims of ritual sacrifice, presumably at the hands of Druidic priests, many of the victims obviously tortured in the most horrific of ways.   I won't post descriptions and pictures because most of them are extremely gruesome.  Finding that out made the fairy-tale version of Druids and the such evaporate in a foul vapor.

It was because I'm a liberal that that happened.  Being a liberal, the ultimate claim on my pity is with those who are the victims of society, no matter who and those who have the ultimate claim on it are those who are destroyed by society.  I had no right to maintain a clearly false and romantic view of times, people and their old ways when the irrefutable evidence falsifying those was available. I hold that modern societies, especially in my country and the societies and governing authorities that kill people are unacceptably depraved in some way and need changing.  It would be unjust to hold that there wasn't something as wrong with ancient societies that did those kinds of things.  And the people whose sacrificed bodies were preserved in bogs all across Pagan Europe and elsewhere, can be reasonably assumed to stand for a much larger group of people sacrificed, whose remains have yet to turn up or which will never testify to how they were brutally slaughtered by those folks so romantically imagined as being peaceful nature worshipers.

Clearly, the people and societies that gave up Druidic and other religions chose to do so.   It wouldn't have happened if they didn't see the Christianity that replaced those religions as being an improvement.  I can well imagine that having the threat of having your nipples cut off, being dragged to your death by a rope inserted into a hole made in your neck and all of the other means by which people were sacrificed to the gods of Paganism by a priestly class prepared to do so, looked a lot less appealing to you if you thought you or your loved ones stood a good chance of being the ones killed.   I think we should trust their assessment of the choice available to them at the time of that choice.   It was their necks on the line in a very real reality for them, not ours in our fantasy substitute for their experience.   Any Christian who did what the Druids did would have to be violating the strongest prohibitions of the new religion whereas it was clearly not a violation of the old one to do the most horrible things to people, not to mention animals.

Yes, Jazz on Ulleann Pipes


Keltic Tales Live at the Kerganer
Loic Bléjean uilleann pipes
JB Boclé organ, vibes
Gildas Boclé Bass
Simon Bernier Drums

Uptight, Rigid Step Dancing Is Hot

St. Patrick Day is one of those odd times in America when you find a lot of instant experts on things Irish, one of those being step dancing which is never thought of by most people most of the year.  It's a bit like those folks who ignore figure skating until the night every four years when they have it on the televised Olympics and they all pretend to know who really deserved what numbers, only it comes once a year.

Like the online wisdom you'll read such as that "Xians banned (the musical interval of) the third" you might read that the reason that Irish step dancers traditionally hold their arms straight at their sides was because moving their arms were banned by the Catholic church because dancing that way suppressed sexual thoughts.

As someone who always thought there was something mightily hot about how step dancers didn't move their arms as their legs and feet did, yeah, right.   I'd like to know how that didn't take in other countries no less Catholic than Ireland where they move their arms all over the place.  Going to look for evidence of a religious ban on dancers moving their arms I read that it's just one of a number of speculations for why the custom is as it is, one that looks pretty improbable, to me.  Considering what else was going on as they were dancing, drinking and all of the other associated activities, why would that one be the one prohibition that stuck?  I think the speculation that it was under the influence of 18th century dancing masters who wanted to emphasize upright posture is more likely.   After that it probably just continued as a distinctive custom and part of national identity.  Or maybe people found it hot.   A mixture of firm self-discipline and what looks like wild abandon all at once. 

Anyway, here's a video that's apparently popular of a tap dance - step dance duel by two priests at the North American Seminary in Rome.   The corny close harmony singing doesn't do a thing for me, by the way so I'm starting the video right where the dancing starts.  I hope.

If you really wanted to get into a bawl, Colin Dunne was many times the dancer that Michael Flatley was.   But I'd never want to have the knees and hips you get from dancing in heel shoes after a few years.  Glad I didn't take it up when I could have.

Thrusting Non-god In The Gaps And The Decadence of Science and Modern Culture

It would probably be the honest thing to do to come right out at front and say what I can see of Michael McCullough's professional work leads me to conclude I could honestly call it "science" only in the sense that science fiction is science.   In looking up the basis of his work, in his Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory, I found this statement:

Much of our work on forgiveness in the past few years has used a self-report measure called the Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations (TRIM) Inventory. The version of the TRIM that is most widely in use right now is the TRIM-12. Here is a version of the TRIM-12 that includes scoring instructions, and technical and psychometric information.

 There is a link to the version  the TRIM Inventory that they are using, a series of set responses apparently asking about how the respondent imagines they would think and respond to an imaginary person who has done them wrong.  The procedure and items given as:

Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations Scale--12-Item Form (TRIM-12)

For the following questions, please indicate your current thoughts and feelings about the person who hurt you. Use the following scale to indicate your agreement with each of the questions.

1= Strongly Disagree 2 = Disagree 3 = Neutral 4 = Agree 5 = Strongly Agree

1. I’ll make him/her pay.
 2. I keep as much distance between us as possible.
 3. I wish that something bad would happen to him/her.
 4. I live as if he/she doesn’t exist, isn’t around.
 5. I don’t trust him/her.
 6. I want him/her to get what he/she deserves.
 7. I find it difficult to act warmly toward him/her.
 8. I avoid him/her.
 9. I’m going to get even.
 10. I cut off the relationship with him/her.
 11. I want to see him/her hurt and miserable.
 12. I withdraw from him/her.

So, right off, it would seem to rely on question of  imagining responses to an imaginary person committing an imaginary offense and self-reporting on those. Everything about that relies, to start with, with a person being self-aware enough to accurately characterize their thoughts and actions in those imaginary situations.   It assumes an accurate response when there is no reason to make that assumption.  What that is supposed to reliably tell you about how the person would really respond to a real person doing something real only leads to more questions.  As the imagined person and the wrong they did is, apparently, undefined how anyone could honestly imagine how they would respond to it is the first of those.   Another is why would the researchers choose to pretend that there would be any consistency in the accuracy of one person's imagination of that over time or depending on something as transitory as their mood when they're answering the question.   Not to mention differences in the quality of the relationship of their self-reporting as related to reality among even any two people, not to mention even within some of the very small sample sizes that are considered totally acceptable for psychology.   I doubt they'd get consistent responses from one person asked to self-report to these items several times at intervals long enough for them to have forgotten how they answered the first time. 

I look at it and can think of so many problems with trying to answer any of them correctly on a yes/no basis that being asked to give them a five point ranking only makes things worse.  No abstract person has ever wronged me in an abstract way, like all human thinking and reactions, not to mention behavior, all of those things happen within an incredibly complex context in which things are of variable and constantly shifting character and importance to me.  Lots of things that would occupy way too much of my time in anger one week or month or decade would pass by with mild annoyance or wry amusement another time.   Not to mention the role of trying to be a better person by trying, trying, to control my anger as I sometimes manage, however imperfectly but not to any extent that I would feel comfortable assuming it in my response.   If you think that's thinking about it too hard, we are supposed to believe this "inventory" has something to do with real life.  If that is the result asserted, nothing short of that level of specificity would give anyone the right to make that assumption. 

But that is the assumption that we are constantly required to buy from psychology and all of the social sciences.  Such is the game of let's pretend that tells us what we're pretending is valid because, you know, behavior as science is hard.   Such is the "science" of psychology, to start with.   If you're basing what you do on stuff of that quality, there is no rational reason for anyone to think that the results are honest or reliable or even anything but absurd, when called "science".   Yet it is probably the most consistently pushed of all "science" in the mass media, the ranker speculations of cosmology a likely second place. 


And if that were not bad enough, the current fad is to pretend that you can extend your reach into entirely unreported and unrecorded minds and lives of people and, in the worst of it, pre-human and even entirely non-human lives in the lost and unevidenced past.  Given the ridiculously inadequate tools of psychology to discern the minds and behaviors of living people, the assumption you can reliably make assertions about people in the past is nonsense.   There is no reason to believe that if you were able to survey people in the paleolithic, not to mention earlier epochs on an evolutionary time scale on how they imagined they would respond to such a survey that you'd get the same results.  And, even admitting that the results would likely be different, that would only mean that you are admitting that you don't know how they would differ.   In short, your best tools available to "do psychology with" will tell you absolutely nothing that would give you any reliable information about human minds in the past.  They wouldn't give you anything to base any HONEST assertions about that on.  

I think this kind of use of the word "evolution" is an unadmitted attempt to pretend that you can reliably fill in an enormous gap in knowledge within science with complete conjecture based on an extension of materialist ideology.   That was certainly how Michael McCullough was framing his assertions in the On Being program I posted about the other night.   

MS. TIPPETT: OK. And, Michael, I think that provides a cosmic context for the work you do, which is about the evolution of morality. I mean, I don't want to — I want to say this correctly. I mean, one of the — you, in your work, take an evolutionary perspective on moral emotions.

DR. MCCULLOUGH: Yeah, because the advances that biology has made has been through the notion that, to the extent that you see order in the living world — it is being driven by mechanism. I mean, it's an odd place. I think we end up in similar places ethically, but I actually see mechanism as our friend.

The statement is a faith statement, because you see order in the world, you assume all of the the world is driven by the same mechanism.   Leaving out that the assertions that the order in the world is due to a mechanical system is a metaphor, comparing the order in uninvented nature to a human made machine, the problem starts with an assumption that everything can be successfully compared to machines.   In the case of human behavior, or, in fact, any behavior, the idea that it is mechanical is presented with the problem that the "mechanism" unlike a humanly made machine will produce different results rather more often than any successful machine would.  If you are going to insist on a machine model, it's an incredibly complex machine that has so many parts and inputs of such variety and unpredictability that you would never be able to figure it out.

Computers are machines based on a humanly constructed metaphor of how very simple human thinking has been believed to be - a metaphor that is commonly and illogically asserted to tell us something about human minds when the relationship can only go in the other direction.  What I think we can really learn from that is the common habit of people in our culture to fail to see what we're doing when we do that.  It is a habit of thought ingrained in our culture from the beginning of our making machines as uncomplicated as a clock - which began as a metaphor for the perceived motion of the sun over us, one that didn't even reveal the actual relationship of the two objects used to make the metaphor.  And human minds are nowhere near as observable as those things we create by making these metaphors, thus such things as the "inventory" in lieu of actually being able to make anything like an objective observation of the mind.   And they are no where near as simple as the movement of the Earth and the Sun.  Or as regular.

I think our culture, our respect for the achievements of science and technology in areas where they do, actually, give us something to rely on bleeds over into areas where they can't do that.   We replace a materialistic system of superstition for that ability, one based on the assumption expressed by Michael McCullough. We assert things about human minds, the unrecorded and unobservable past in evolutionary history, even the existence of jillions of universes based on those habits and the ideology that is behind them.   

One of the frequently made, totally irrelevant and totally clueless assertions commonly made by sci-rangers on the blog is that you are trying to put "God in the gaps" of knowledge.  You will be accused of that even when you're not talking about God but are merely pointing out that there are gaps where they are pretending there are not.   What they are doing is putting their preferred substitute for God in those gaps, a simulation of science and assertions of materialist faith that because of non-speculative physics and chemistry giving us good things, we can make up stories and fables and fantastic worlds and universes and pretend that we can read the minds of our most remote ancestors.   And, given someone with a degree from a university and a sufficiently strong service to the controlling materialist ideology, gets to call that "science" and we are required to pretend we don't see a problem with it. 

The word "evolution" is fraught with the entire scope of meaning of that word, scientific, political, ideological, and the subject of so much combat on two sides of a culture war that it has become a symbol of ultimate evil on one side and as a Holy Grail or a sacred talisman on the other side.  It is so powerful within the side that likes to claim science as its property, its god, that merely attaching the word to some really, really bad science is powerful enough to suspend any rigorous consideration of the thing it protects.   I originally noticed that use of the word to name "evolutionary psychology" which, from my reading of Wilson and Dawkins in the 1970s, I thought was an attempt to insert the appallingly bad standards allowed in the social sciences into actual biological science.  An insertion that is one of the most successfully adopted bad ideas I've seen in my lifetime.  Matched only by allowing a similar invasion into liberal politics, based largely on a similar religio-ideological view of science.   It has been a total disaster for liberalism, hollowing it out from the foundation, the results for science won't likely be any better.   All of which could have been avoided by only allowing actual, rigorous science studying the real phenomenon of evolution to use the name in scientific publications and classrooms.   That was not done even in the founding generation of scientists in the modern period of biology, beginning in the 1860s, who began making ideological use of it almost immediately and began the practice of creating a simulation of data and even life forms out of an extension of natural selection, not observation.   So was one of the great advances in science immediately turned into something that would damage it by the very scientists who pretended they didn't do things like that. 

We are living in a neo-scholastic period of science and culture, one that has few of the virtues of medieval scholasticism and all of its vices.  Only, we tell ourselves, that we are enlightened by the torch of science and so are not capable of doing exactly what it is we do and call it "science".   As I've pointed out, the materialist god, atheist saint Bertrand Russell predicted something like that about ninety years ago.  It's one thing he got right even as he did so much to promote the conditions that would bring it about.  And he clearly knew better than to do that. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Honor St. Patrick By Working to End Slavery - I'll Say It Every Year

As my fellow Irish Americans set about to dishonor St. Patrick by doing their best to live up to the most malicious stereotypes of us that the Anglo Saxon nativeists invented, it's good to remember that St. Patrick was an escaped slave. As such it's not surprising that the evil of slavery was of special importance to him, one of the most certain things we know about him.   One of the few documents that scholars believe is reliably from him is his letter to the soldiers of King Coroticus effectively excommunicating them along with Coroticus because they abducted and enslaved a number of Irish Christians under Patrick's care.   His language in his excommunication is remarkably strong and firey considering the mildness and humility of the other document reliably attributed to him, his Confession.

American St. Patrick's day is as disgusting as American Christmas and American Halloween. There isn't anything honorable about it.  St. Patrick, escaped slave returned to convert his enslavers and one of the earliest campaigners against slavery deserves a lot better than being used as an excuse to get drunk and participate in parades that become an annual celebration of bigotry and discrimination.   Not to mention that disgusting political roast held in Boston every year.  Do something to fight against modern slavery, to refuse to buy products made by slave labor in the third world and here.  Refuse to ignore the sexual slavery that is so widespread today. That kind of commerce and sexual slavery during his lifetime were condemned by St. Patrick, after all, mentioned specifically as a sin damning Coroticus and his "gangsters".

Update 2015:  I was going to include St. Patrick in my series of abolitionist documents last month but knew I'd be posting it for tomorrow anyway.   If he was the first successful abolitionist is something I'd like to know, if there's something I learned from that series last month it is that the history of Christian abolitionism goes back and is far stronger than I'd originally believed.   It might be a good idea to note that St. Macrina the younger, according to her brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, had that insight even earlier, as she apparently inspired his abolitionism. Her feast day is July 19.   St. Macrina the elder is their grandmother.   That family generated an impressive number of saints.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Censoring Science, The External and the Internal

The On Being program broadcast today was pretty provocative and could have been the occasion for some real fireworks but those didn't develop.  Instead there was a very good but, ultimately, stalemated discussion over the alleged benefits of believing that a mechanistic view of life is accurate.  The particpants with Krista Tippett were Arthur Zajonc,  emeritus professor of physics at Amherst College and president of the Mind and Life Institute and Michael McCullough professor of psychology at the University of Miami, where he directs the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory*.   Of the two it was kind of remarkable to me that the physicist was the one who was the more skeptical of the mechanistic universe than the psychologist.   While I would suspect that would be because modern physics has found the mechanistic model to be unsound, the life sciences, invested so heavily in the 19th century model of natural selection, and thoroughly enmeshed  in a political struggle, their ideological side thoroughly invested in that view, can allow no one to imagine anything else.  I found the following statement Zajonc made to be far more convincing than McCullough's breezy assertions which I am entirely confident are based on fundamental contradictions, held only through refusing to address the issues rigorously.

Yeah. In Mind and Life, for example, is a very large tent. I'd say the majority of the folks within that scientific and contemplative community are either materialistically oriented or agnostic on the whole question. And there may be a relative handful who have a more active spiritual set of commitments. But that's fine because we're not there to adjudicate that particular set of ontological commitments, that high-level stuff. We're there to do some experiments, do what seems to benefit, come to insights that we have confidence will ultimately benefit folks, reduce suffering, and promote human flourishing. That's the line. And I think that's just the way it should be.

By the same token, I think, personally, that the good science, if you will, that's done also has this sort of agnostic character. And where I get worried is where the mechanism commitments and the materialist commitment is slipped in as if this were the only thing any good scientist could possibly believe....

... Whereas I think that's just not the case. In fact, I would make the case that simply on the matter of science, from the standpoint of good physics, materialism is very implausible, or you have to reinterpret it in a way which makes it bizarre. So this is not the place to hold out those arguments and so forth. But you don't need them. I think science doesn't rely on them. I mean, I don't see — if this is an illusion, then the brain is an illusion. So, it just feels to me like we're constantly in this infinite regress.

I think it's both extremely interesting and telling that it is the physicist who understands the inescapable problems for our thoughts, our minds, the products of those, including the very science both he and the psychologist value, if the mind is the mere product of physical causation and a machine.   While McCullough makes some rather ambiguous statements which, I would say, are obviously and fundamentally at odds with his ideological commitments,  his years in his profession, allegedly the science of the mind, doesn't seem to have prepared him to consider those problems.   I will go more into that another day.

As someone who has, a number of times, typed out and posted large passages of the book Zajonc mentioned in the course of the discussion and as someone who has enormous respect for its author, Joseph Weizenbaum, I found this passage fascinating.

And I think one last thing in this regard — this kind of conversation is very precious also, the fact that Michael and I can disagree on certain fundamentals in a safe context. You know, the computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum wrote a book, Computer Power and Human Reason. Got him in huge trouble at MIT where he was a prominent scientist. I remember him talking with great bitterness and difficulty about how he was treated by his colleagues for even questioning the possibility of the infinite power of the computer and the possibilities of artificial intelligence and so forth 'cause he was on the inside of all that. First natural language program, he wrote.

It was really rough on him. He had to leave the United States, went to Hamburg where he had a home and so forth in order to let things calm down in difficult time. Or another friend of mine at the Institute for Advanced Studies, same sort of thing. And when I speak about these things, and I raise these questions, it's been difficult. Our community of scientists is very — it's got a certain set of ideological commitments.

MS. TIPPETT: Bringing the word “contemplative and physicist” is also not that easy in the world of physics.

DR. ZAJONC: Oh man. No. All this kind of soft language of mine, it's all hazardous — or raising the question of materialism. Oh man, this is a dogma. I think of it as an assertion. It's proof by assertion as opposed to by reason. And I want to — nowadays, I'm old enough, I want to call it into question. I never felt that it was adequate with the last 40 years of being in science. But for most of those 40 years I felt like, step out of line at your risk, at your peril. I've done it occasionally and more consistently recently, late in life.

But we shouldn't have illusions about science, even today, welcoming the full discourse. There are certain general commitments. And one has to be — sort of pluck up one's courage at least to step into the fray. And then, more often than not, I think there's a positive response. You can get hit a few times. But basically, that's fine. So, I think we should practice this kind of work more and more, allow for that difference, explore it with real respect and civility and have it be the — what Hannah Arendt might like as our public place of discourse where really the most important ideas can be debated openly. And it doesn't — we don't have to come to a single conclusion at the end.

I had, of course, known that Weizenbaum, one of the major figures in computer science during the time,  spent the last part of his life in Germany, the country he had fled with his parents in the 1930s, but I'd not known he was hounded out of the United States, MIT in MASSACHUSETTS, for crying out loud, due to him being a scientific heretic.   And, considering the careful nature of what he said in the book, his rigorous citations and flawless logic, him getting that level of flack for that book is pretty amazing.   And we're not talking the Massachusetts of the 1920s WASP plutocracy, we're talking about the hotbed of academic freedom, free speech absolutism at the high water mark of its actually being a liberal state in the academic environs that were the very pinnacle of that sadly lost world.   Perhaps there is something in the incident to be understood, something it could tell us about just the enforced boundaries of acceptable speech about science are drawn.

In those years, Weizenbaum was once on Boston TV being interviewed on the introduction of computers into elementary schools.  He was a skeptic as to their revolutionizing education, he said that it wouldn't take the place of children learning to read and write and do arithmetic or the need to have good teachers in classes of manageable size.   I don't think I'd read his book before then but it's a statement that earned him my respect in a way that a lot of the geeks never would.

*  Without knowing anything about that lab's record, the idea that you can know anything about human behavior on an evolutionary scale of time is absurd.  I will be addressing some of what McCullough said later this week.