Saturday, October 12, 2013

Francesco Corbetta Passacaille

Israel Golani Baroque Guitar

Friday, October 11, 2013

Better Without Pictures

Here is an interesting thing,  a reading theater versions of Sophocles' play Philoctetes, presented by The Philoctetes Center For the Interdisciplinary Study of the Imagination.   They give their readings of the play for medical professionals and others who deal with sick and disabled people on a regular basis.  The intro gives you more information.

You might try closing your eyes as you listen.  If I were the director I'd have the actors behind a screen, depending more on the imagination to make it real than what you'll see from actors sitting at a table.

I miss the CBC's series, The Mystery Project.  I remember after listening to Alf Silver's series "Clean Sweep,"  when I saw what the actors looked like it was nothing like what I imagined.   I like radio drama, it's often so much better without pictures.   I don't know why more actors don't produce plays to be listened to online.  Imagine the possibilities of doing the kind of work you want to, even if it doesn't pay.  Musicians do it all the time.  You could put ads on the website and not have them interfere with the work.   And it wouldn't matter if you weren't pretty enough to play the role on stage or on screen.

Alternet: Too Busy Hating To Make Progress

It would be a hard determination to make that it is the biggest one, but it's my impression that the often useful news accumulator site Alternet is a major non-specialist source of anti-religious hate-talk on the left.   I am only a casual reader of it but I don't recall a single time I've gone there when what can only be called anti-religious hate talk doesn't figure on its front page.   Today's carries one of Amanda Marcotte's anti-religious rants, "How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane."  As is generally the case with Marcotte, her post may carry a germ which might bump against something real,  but she reduces a complicated issue into a convenient factoid of her typical anti-religious invective. This, in particular, is just plain distortion and crappy journalistic practice

Pew Research shows that people who align with the Tea Party are more likely to not only agree with the views of religious conservatives, but are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.  White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to approve of the Tea Party. Looking over the data, it becomes evident that the “Tea Party” is just a new name for the same old white fundamentalists who would rather burn this country to the ground than share it with everyone else,...

Apparently, from the comments I could take reading, not many people followed up on the link to Pew, because here is what the article said on that topic:

The analysis shows that most people who agree with the religious right also support the Tea Party. But support for the Tea Party is not synonymous with support for the religious right. An August 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that nearly half of Tea Party supporters (46%) had not heard of or did not have an opinion about “the conservative Christian movement sometimes known as the religious right”; 42% said they agree with the conservative Christian movement and roughly one-in-ten (11%) said they disagree.3 More generally, the August poll found greater familiarity with and support for the Tea Party movement (86% of registered voters had heard at least a little about it at the time and 27% expressed agreement with it) than for the conservative Christian movement (64% had heard of it and 16% expressed support for it).

Let me point this sentence in what Pew said, again

But support for the Tea Party is not synonymous with support for the religious right.

The article Marcotte claimed as supporting her theme contradicts it.   I have long suspected that the decrease in reading comprehension might account for a good part of the atheism fad as well as the fall of journalism,  people who are attracted by hate talk aren't much different from those attracted to other forms of stereotype based hate.   I've had my problems with Marcotte and false representations of what I wrote, just over seven years ago.  As is generally my experience with her,  she won't correct herself no matter how obvious the misrepresentation is.   That has been my experience when I was misrepresented by atheists.  Why that should be the case is something I won't speculate on but it has been my experience.

And it seems to have worked for Marcotte, other than that incident when the Edwards campaign dumped her as a campaign blogger when the early and less genteely espressed hate talk in her archive was used to embarrass them, Marcotte has benefited from the attention that her hate talk has gained for her.  She appears regularly at Alternet and more occasionally on other sites that are definitely a step up from Pandagon, where I first encountered her.  I even recall Rachel Maddow had her on once, in her more recent, cleaned up style.  If it were Jews or Muslims who were the focus of her hate talk instead of Christians, that would not have happened.

An important clue to why she and other anti-Christian, anti-religious hate talkers have flourished saying inaccurate, untrue things that would not have never been accepted on "the left" if said about other groups can be found on the side column of Alternet.   This story is listed as #7 in its most read,  it is #5 of its most e-mailed, it is #1 of the most discussed.  Hate talk sells.  If you go on pushing the buttons to see what Alternet content is linked to on Reddit you'll find, "One-Third of Americans Under 30 Have No Religion -- How Will That Change the Country?" "Why are So Many Christians So Unchristian" and "Holy Freeloading! 10 Ways Religious Groups Take from the Public Purse"  by Valerie Tarico, another of Alternet's  in-house anti-religious specialists.   And they're not done there. Alternet hosts far more anti-religious content and bloggers, such as Bruce Wilson.   You can see more if you click on the tab marked "belief" to get a good idea of how Alternet generally presents religion, under the "Living" tab on their index bar.   For the people who run Alternet, hate sells.

Alternet may carry some useful content but it clearly is in the business of catering to bigots as surely as FOX is.  Unfortunately for the would-be left, the group they love to hate comprises the largest part of the population.  That is a political non-starter.  It is riding the crest of a fad for atheism which has been a minor fad and which will almost certainly not continue as a feature of a working left.  Anti-religious hate has been one of the major issues that has defeated the left in the period after the successes of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.   Hate has worked far better for the right, the goals of which are advantaged by hate.

It might come as a surprise but I am of the opinion that there needs to be more informed criticism of Christian conservatives who I believe are misrepresenting the teachings of Jesus and those of his followers who knew him, something which is a serious and important obstruction of change in the direction of real American style liberalism.  It discredits one of the most potent forces for that change, Jesus advocated the most advanced of radical economics, far more radical than anything any Marxist has, and a far more radical egalitarianism than any secular group I'm aware of.  The anti-religious "left" generally devolves into either something which ends up aiding the far right or, as in the case of such people as Max Eastman, Christopher Hitchens and David Horowitz, they eventually join up with the far right.   Any atheist who wants to disavow the practices and the values of such people can, of course, disassociate themselves from them but that isn't done very often that I've ever seen.   I think it's way past time for religious liberals to do that with the fundamentalists.  We need to defeat the right wing abduction and misrepresentation of one of the greatest voices for truly radical change, Jesus.  Anti-Christians of the alleged left are enabling that misrepresentation for what boil down to quite similar goals.

It's up to religious liberals, those well versed in the record of what Jesus and his followers said to fight the "christian" right.   They are equipped to do that.  Anti-religious atheists have a long track record of failure on that account, as, indeed, they have in making much in the way of durable political progress.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Charles Ives - Symphony n.4 - I. Prelude: Maestoso

I don't usually post parts of pieces but I've recently been asked to write a setting of Lowell Mason's "Morning Star" for the funeral of a wonderful old lady.   Charles Ives' use of it went through my head the entire time but my setting is far more conventional.   Well, with one unresolved dissonance or so.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus

Republican Racism Will Be the Major Issue of the History of the Obama Administration

When the history of the Obama administration is written, the major issue will be how the Republican establishment, the media, the oligarchs, their properties in the congress and state governments, used blatant racism to weaken him and manipulate him.    While racism isn't the primary motive of many of those Republicans, it is their primary means to try to overturn two elections, the last one in which The American People gave Obama one of the most impressive electoral victories in modern history.  The ultimate goal of Republicans is to use the substantial percentage of the American population who hate black people and people of color as a political weapon.  

Unwisely, I believe, Obama has consistently weakened his position by refusing to confront the racists who have been emboldened by his attempts to make friends with them.  Part of that is his expectation that he could do with the racists in Congress and the media by making alliances with them, the means by which he won the presidency of the Harvard Law Review and worked with the Republicans in the Illinois Senate.   But it is certainly not the way that things have worked during his presidency.  Racism, bigotry has to be named and fought and you don't do that by pretending it's not there when it's blatantly declaring its presence.

One of the things we have learned from the Obama era is that for a considerable and dangerous group of Americans the worst part of the 19th century never ended. Their minds are as mired in the racism from that century, its slogans, its images, its attitudes, some of those in the updated cover Hollywood gave it, and they comprise the controlling minority of the Republican Party today.  The "sane," greed driven oligarchs are wedded to them because they allow them to take power during Republican administrations and to control politics through the insanity of their obsessive hate.   They are highly motivated by their hate and, as we are seeing with the government shutdown and the coming default, they are willing to go to any length to prevent the will of the non-racist majority from being made law.   They are the wider manifestation of the same fascism for which the Klu Klux Klan and the skinheads are the most devoted fanatics.  They are the "good Americans" and you should read that with the memory of the "good Germans" of the 1930s and 40s ringing in your ear.   They are extremely dangerous because the allow the extremists to gain power.  No faction of them is more culpable than the "free press" which has aided their power grab, which has not changed as their dangerousness became obvious and which still sees them as a means for corporate oligarchy to gain power and steal everything in sight, an extension of the Bush II regime.

A friend of mine who monitors right-wing websites tells me that the psychotics gathered on them are gleefully anticipating a real, shooting civil war to erupt with the default and the economic havoc which will result from it.   Thanks to the Roberts Court, the media and others who have allowed it, those psychotics are armed to the sky, when they start talking like that it is a serious warning that some of them really mean it.  I have no confidence that if a few of them start it that others of the group of racist gun nuts won't join in.  I have no confidence that some police wouldn't help them just as the police were involved with the KKK terror campaigns of the past.   While we have coddled fascists and Nazis under the "free speech" absolutist fad, they've been preparing to do just what they've always said they intended to do.  It might still seem unlikely that they could take over but who knows?   As the Oklahoma City bombing and a wave of individual hate murders have shown, they can kill lots of us even in the absence of overt political control. They have been conducting a low-level war against minorities, often with the participation of the police and the gun industry, the sponsors of "stand your ground" laws.  Lots of them take their models for action from the media, especially the movies.

Barack Obama represents the post-racist American society to lots of people, they will point to his impressive re-election numbers.  But reality doesn't come down to that kind of facile, sound-bite simplicity.  The use of Barack Obama by the oligarchs who use fascists to retain control of the country is what I see in the past six years, they have certainly made him into a weak president who can't do much that they don't want him to.  We are about to find out if this default will turn into racist politics last stand or if it will be something that most of us still like to believe is unthinkable.  We've put off thinking about that too long.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Arnold Schönberg: Moses und Aron

Update:  I just saw that I misspelled Aron by spelling it right.   Schoenberg was famously afraid of the number between 12 and 14, so he spelled Aron with one a instead of two.   Fixed that.

Sheldrake Writes On The Problem With Wikipedia

Rupert Sheldrake has written a blog post about the serious, I'd say fatal, problem of Wikipedia being hijacked by organized ideologues who are free to turn it into their ideological tool.  I've written about that twice, already this year. Considering the influence that Wikipedia has on peoples' thinking, it is a very important and serious problem.   As with the problem of our lying mass media (who use Wikipedia as much as the general public)  the things people believe are true does make a real difference in what they do.  The truth matters.

Sheldrake notes how his Wiki bio was taken over by a team of organized "skeptics" soon after Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers whipped up their fan base in an attack on Sheldrake resulting in the TEDx talk he'd been invited to give being removed from its website.   According to Sheldrake, even with counter-editing the Wikipedia article about him is totally unreliable and inaccurate.   Being somewhat familiar with Sheldrake's CV and the history of several of the attacks made on him, it is clear that the article is seriously inaccurate and incomplete, obviously having been edited to discredit him to casual readers*.  

There is only one thing I disagree with in Rupert Sheldrake's post,  I don't see any way for Wikipedia to be made less vulnerable to ideological manipulation.  Its very method of generating content is an open invitation to inaccuracy, its methods of "correction", of "editing" puts that in the hands of anonymous people and organized groups of no knowable reliability or responsibility.  Every problem that traditional encyclopedias is magnified by the Wikipedia model.  Those haven't been corrected in the 12 years of its existence, as can be seen in groups such as the Guerrilla "skeptics" and who knows what other organized groups that don't trumpet their ideological war against objectivity.   

In the post Sheldrake notes an Oxford based study of the most actively "edited" topics on Wikipedia in a number of languages.  The list contains several that should be deeply troubling to everyone.

The most controversial topics across all the 10 editions analysed were:
  • Israel
  • Adolf Hitler
  • The Holocaust
  • God
When I first ran across the "Guerrilla Skeptics" one of the first things I thought of was the rather astounding amount of neo-Nazi content you find in word searches online.**  I have no doubt that there likely is organized neo-Nazi editing on Wikipedia and no doubt that there are anti-Nazi groups that would be alert to that. But any person who looks up a topic on Wikipedia sees whatever which of the warring sides puts up at the time that they read the article.  Given the reality of Holocaust denial as an active feature of today's politics by real Nazis with real aspirations to power here and in countries where they might have a better chance of exercising influence, I'd really rather not have a "reference work" that is open to the possibility of it being a part-time propaganda venue for them.  And that is just one group of highly organized ideologues and, let's be honest, criminals who could turn any kind of thing with "open sourced" content into their tool, as the Guerrilla Skeptics proudly call Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is the most important tool for skepticism that exists today
Well, is it their tool instead of a reliably objective reference work?  Clearly, yes.  

I don't think Wikipedia can be fixed and remain Wikipedia and I don't think something generated and structured as Wikipedia is can avoid becoming an ideological propaganda tool.  It was based on a rather superstitious belief that some unseen hand will correct it,  as if there is some kind of natural force that will balance for the truth, for reality, that is bound to win out in the end.  That superstition seems to come up over and over again in society, it is the same superstitious belief that the "more speech" and "the market" are based on.  It is a lazy, reality denying slack off.***  

Human history shows that entirely untrue and malicious propaganda is extremely potent and able, unimpeded by this fictitious governor, proceed to create a disaster, over and over again.   The truth has to be actively promoted, it has to be protected against lies, it has to be protected against the lazy refusal to take an active and responsible stand that prevents the propagation of lies.   Everything about this is rather ironic, a "reference work" having to be criticized for its refusal to take responsibility for its content, ideologues calling themselves "skeptics" crowing about their hijacking of it and turning it into an ideological tool for their scientistic materialism....  Wikipedia is a mess of wildly varied reliability and no way for anyone to sort the good articles from the entirely bad ones.  And there is no evidence, whatsoever that it will ever not be one.   In one final and supreme irony the "Guerrilla Skeptics" claim to believe that "evidence is cool."

*  If I were in the business of "editing" Wikipedia articles, I'd go into  that within the month of the Coyne-Myers attack on Sheldrake,  one of the major issues they brought up, whether or not the speed of light was variable, was addressed without attacks by them in two published scientific papers which supported Sheldrake's suspicions that the speed of light may not, after all, be a constant value. I have not seen any correction issued by Coyne or by his fellow materialist ideologue, Sean Carroll noting that their assertions on that point would seem to be in serious trouble.  If there is one thing I've learned from my research into and encounters with these "skeptics" is that their assertions about being interested in objective accuracy are a complete and total hoax.   

** I am sure that some idiot will start shouting "Godwin's Law" just about now. The creation and propagation of the empty headed locution, "Godwin's Law," is one of the stupidest things in idiot pop-culture today.   That there are real Nazis, here and in countries where they have a good chance of having a real effect on things is obvious to anyone with a working mind who has ever done much googling or doing that quaint, old-fashioned thing, reading the news. 

*** You might want to read this to see how the grotesquely irresponsible "custodian" of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales sees his total mess of a "reference work" having a major effect in the world.   I almost choked on my coffee when I came to this passage,  But he says it remains uncertain whether universities will be ready to change. "There's a certain inertia in the system."  Yeah, Jimmy, now's that open "editing" problem getting fixed?  Or are you relying on open editing to fix that too? 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Santiago de Murcia Folias Ytalianas

Paul O'Dette?

Follow Up on a Recent Post

We have evolutionary schemes for history, psychology, culture, economics, political structures, and languages. The result has been that the telling of a plausible evolutionary story without any possibility of critical and empirical verification has become an accepted mode of intellectual work even in natural science.

Richard Lewontin:  Not So Natural Selection

I happened to re-read this essay last night and decided to post this to show that an honest atheist like Lewontin is able to admit what few others do, that the culture of science has fallen to the point that lore can replace scientific method, the result being accepted as scientifically valid.   You can remember this the next time someone pulls the "empirical evidence" line on you.   Science isn't supposed to work the way it does in this area and the great irony is that it is largely atheists such as Dawkins and Dennett who have promoted this kind of "science".   And that didn't prevent Dawkins from being given that Oxford chair from which he was supposed to improve "the public understanding of science".  He seemed to spend most of it on promoting his career in pop-atheism instead.

The Sacrosanct Supreme Court Brought Us To This Disaster It Is A Sewer

I have become one of those who believe that the Republicans in the House of Representatives will default on the debt.   The consequences of that are unknown but there is a very good chance that it could send the economy into a crisis, perhaps as bad as the one Republicans caused during the Bush II regime.  If anyone forgot, the massively corrupt Bush II was a gift of the Supreme Court and the corporate media that installed him as President.   As disappointing as Barack Obama and Harry Reid have been, the memory of what the Bush II regime did to this country and others shows that things can be far worse.   The economic catastrophe of 2008 was a direct result of that corrupt decision by the court and the coming one will be too.

During the Warren Court, through a series of landmark rulings in civil rights, economic justice and many other areas,  liberals forgot that for most of its history the Supreme Court was the friend of the privileged, wealthy, white, male minority of the country.  After Earl Warren, a series of courts led by blatantly political Chief Justices and associate Justices have systematically undone, not only what the Warren Court accomplished but the entire history of decisions that don't favor that privileged minority.   I will remind you, because by chance, as I am typing this Nina Totenberg is on the radio saying the words, that much of that reassertion of the oligarchic privilege has been through the vehicle of "free speech" and "free press".   Those phrases, endowed with power, as so many chanted ritualistically, have been divorced from any meaning related to their most important political manifestation, in protecting equality and the very self-government that the Court so blatantly attacked in the Bush vs. Gore decision.   Using those phrases was a brilliantly cynical ploy,  liberals and the faux-liberals are total suckers for those words.

This coming disaster is also a result of court decisions which have attacked the voting rights act and which have allowed the blatant gerrymandering of congressional districts.   Those decisions allowed the situation in which an electoral loss by Republicans, according to the numbers in the last congressional elections to result in a Republican Majority in the House, which is sponsoring the disaster.  What is supposed to be The Peoples' house, the most democratic part of the Federal government has been systematically and intentionally corrupted into the Boehner House, headed by a corrupt alcoholic who cares nothing about the welfare of the country, blackmailed by the most psychotic faction of house members and political ideologues since the darkest days of the 19th century.   The political program of the Roberts Court has favored overturning even the Republican dominated Progressive era reforms of the early 20th century, so it should be no great shock that what it has helped to produce resembles the massive corruption those reforms corrected.

The next time you hear the priesthood of the Supreme Court being deferentially reported on by Nina or others of the most genteel of the Washington Press Corps, remember that their role in producing the corruption that plagues us right now. Remember the other corrupt courts that brought us things like Jim Crow and corporate person hood.   The pose that the Court is the guarantor of freedom and liberty should have died with Earl Warren because that was when that kind of thing started to die.  The Rehnquist and Roberts Courts are as bad as the bad courts of the past, they deserve no more respect than the insane tea baggers in the House of Representatives who are intent on destroying everything, including self-government.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Vierne Plays Vierne

Vierne, like many French organists, was famous for his improvisations.   Here is a piece he improvised for a recording session in 1929.  He was quite a musician. 

Louis Vierne - Second Organ Symphony

Ulf Norberg, organ
Maria Norberg, assistant

The Concept of Rights, of Justice of Equality Are Necessary Aspects of Seeing People As The Creation of God

One of the more interesting incoherencies in the alleged culture of the modern intellectuals is the use of the term "free thinker" to mean the adherents of an atheistic ideology that denies the possibility of anyone thinking freely.  Yesterday I tried to show how the widespread belief in a form of  biological determinism negates the required foundations of American liberalism. Tying us, absolutely, our actions, our interactions, our lives, our very experience to organic chemistry negates freedom, and the influence of Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology in the current crops of those who have been to college is ubiquitous.  It is THE default belief about all kinds of stuff, from gender roles, economic class, educational aspiration, the lives and deaths of huge numbers of people.  Biological determinism in society has always been accompanied by doppelgangers of racism and sexism.   In short, it is impossible to maintain both a belief in Dawkinsian evo-psy and liberalism with any kind of integrity, their intellectual reconciliation is impossible.   I think that in the English speaking peoples that liberalism, in the American sense of the word, the legacy of the 19th century reformers, built on the legacy of the 18th century has been the loser.  Without a doubt, American liberalism and its counterparts in Britain and even Canada, has been on the downward incline during the same period as the resurgence of Darwinian determinism*.  

In Onward, Christian Liberals, Christianity's long tradition of social injustice, an essay published in The American Scholar in 2006,  Marilynne Robinson made a far more convincing case for, not only the compatibility of American liberalism with Calvinism, but that historically much of American liberalism was a result of an understanding of Calvinism.   When that liberalism was developing in the same places and among the same people involved in both the enormous eruptions of both the First and Second Great Awakenings, it would be hard to contend that the great reform efforts that constitute the social and political manifestations of that liberalism, its actual substance, had nothing to do with each other.   I can think of no other thing that happened during that period, encouraging a change of behavior involving self-denial and the Biblical imperatives of doing justice to the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger among us that would account for reform movements large enough to make the kind of change that was made.   Though I think that other religious groups, the Quakers, in particular, may have had a bit to do with it as well.

I am speaking from the perspective of American liberal Protestantism. As I understand the history of this tradition, it departed in the mid–18th century from the Calvinism its forebears had brought from England when it experienced the potent religious upheaval known as the First Great Awakening. The given of the movement was that people passed into a state of sanctity—and in effect were assured of their salvation—through an intense mystical/emotional experience, often a vision of Christ. The movement swept pre–Revolutionary America and left in its wake Princeton, Dartmouth, the temperance movement, a heightened sense of shared identity, and the model of revivalism as a norm of religious culture. There was criticism and reaction against extremes of enthusiasm, and an important Calvinist aversion to the idea that the fruits of salvation could be had by shaking the tree. And there was a period of quiet, which ended with the onset in the early 19th century of the Second Great Awakening, again based on the belief that salvation was realized in a mystical/emotional experience. It swept the Northeast, sending zealous New Yorkers and New Englanders out into the Territories, and left in its wake the abolitionist movement, the women’s suffrage movement, any number of fine colleges, a revived temperance movement, Utopianism, Seventh-day Adventists, and Latter-day Saints. And also a literature on the treatment of an affliction they frankly called “religious mania.”

Having read a part of the enormous literature of mystical religion, I can point out you'll find some of the earliest warnings against such a "mania" contained in them. It has frequently been presented as dangerous and damaging to religious progress. That warning probably pre-dates Christianity.  

As an ardent Calvinist, Robinson confronts the idea of predestination, presenting it in an entirely different manner than it is usually given.   I would probably have to break copyrite law to quote enough of the article to give you an idea of what she says so I will only ask that you read her in full.  While I am not, have never been and almost never will be a predestinarian**, she does a far more convincing job of squaring the circle, reconciling predestination with freedom, in a way that the molecular fundamentalists have not done.  Something which I believe materialism is incapable of doing.  She does a job of showing how much more of an advantage religious belief is for liberalism in that religious liberals don't think they know it all or can know it all or even an impressive part of it all.  Molecular fundamentalism is as tied to a primitive and narrow assumption that they have the key to everything as biblical fundamentalism is to a primitive and narrow concept of their favored authority.

Only, whereas the molecular fundamentalist can brush aside as delusions, concepts of justice, of morality, of the inherency of rights and moral obligations, those are massively important and potent parts of The Bible.   While there are certainly millions of professed believers in the Bible as divine authority who notably ignore its most important and frequent exhortations to do justice, to feed the poor, to clothe them, to love them, to treat the stranger among us as we treat ourselves, to not do unto others, and to do to others what we would have done to us, they can't simply cut those out of the text.  The atheist fundamentalists have been blatantly denying those for more than a hundred-fifty years and there is no convincing explanation I know of which accounts for the reality of them under atheism.  Convincing enough to produce evidence that atheists believe it to match the reforms growing out of The Great Awakenings.   The stronger tendency among atheists is to ignore or deny their reality.

I have larger hopes that those claiming a belief in The Bible as the word of God seeing the error of their ways and behaving justly than in people whose fundamental holding makes that not only impossible but unnecessary.

*  As a large group of scientists and others predicted at the dawn of the immediate predecessor of evo-psy, Sociobiology.   A group that included some of the most eminent Darwinists of our time.

** Perhaps, as a moderate believer in universalism, I do believe in a kind of predestination.  If everyone is made for salvation, that is predestined, perhaps more predestinarian than the idea that someone can choose to be saved or not, though I'd expect anyone would rather be saved, if their choice isn't hampered by ignorance or mental illness.   Atheists are even more strictly predestinarian in that they believe we all are bound inevitably for eternal obliteration, our bodies destined for whatever bleak end that happens to be in fashion among the cosmologists any given month.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Does the Widespread Faith in Evo-Psy Damage Liberalism?

American style liberalism is based in faith, a belief in the possibility of change for the better, of people having better lives through better behavior.   Individual people can see the the injustice done to people, even by themselves, and they can end the injustice and even, sometimes, make amends.  That is the basis of liberalism, it is also the basis of democracy.    That statement has probably already led to horror, the idea that liberalism depends on such a thing as faith is entirely unacceptable to many who like to think of themselves as liberal or even a position allegedly farther in that direction, on the left.   But there isn't any other basis possible for that idea, it isn't the general run of experience that kind of beneficial change is likely or even possible,  human history doesn't give much reason to believe in it so it is an extraordinary act of faith to believe that is possible and worth dedicating your efforts to.  Never mind the faith required to make it your life's work, as the arduous task pf overcoming the entrenched oligarchic powers require.

Anything that impedes that faith will, inevitably, damage the effort, discouraging people from working for that liberal change, discouraging them from believing it is possible.  Encourage them to believe the opposite, that the moral substance of liberalism is a delusion, that the universe is not arcing towards justice but to the elevation of the unjust, the natural and, so, right winners in a brutal struggle for existence.   You can contrast the famous quotation from The Reverend Martin Luther King jr.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

to one only somewhat less famous from Richard Dawkins

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

That is the way the Dawkins quote is usually given but it comes in a longer pargraph.  Just before that he said,

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.

That was from his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life.   In that same book he says,

DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.

In those quotations is contained a complete and absolute destruction of any possible belief in the reality of liberalism as I've been talking about it.  It also contains the absolute justification of its opposite, the pursuit of selfish gratification at the cost of anyone so unlucky as to have what we want and to be weak enough for us to take it for them, up to and including their oppression and death.  And it entirely justifies the refusal to oppose those stronger and more ruthless than we are because opposing them could disadvantage us, better to cooperate and support them.  It also contains the absolute destruction of any personal responsibility.  We do what our DNA is coded to do.  If that is what our DNA impels us to do than we carry out the mission that molecule sends us on AND, inevitably, whatever we do is the inevitable result of nature, of the predetermined code being made manifest in the world.

It will be objected by some that even Richard Dawkins has said we don't have to live as if that were the case, that we can make choices our DNA wouldn't.  Having been a critic of Dawkins' incomplete and opportunistic scientific assertions in the past, I will say that he can't have it both ways.  No determinist, whether they have a knowledge of DNA to give as their explanation of biological determinism or rely on some other mechanism to explain human thought and action, can escape that their determinism is an absolute system.  It is inescapable, either directly or with several more steps of emergent complexity, that only makes it a bit more complex to see the molecular basis of it.  Dawkins' modern version of predestination, based on molecular biology instead of divine whim, is no less absolute and no more a denial of human freedom.   In it is also contained either the denial of morality and the reality of justice and of moral obligations or the plausible deniability required for us to decide to act either immorally or amorally. Dawkins' faith in his Darwinian view of life, in someone more disposed to harm weaker people than an academic who scribbles for a living, justifies not caring about other people or animals or the environment.  It is the working amoral framework of the political opposite of liberals, including he pseudo-liberals who would, I guess, comprise a good percentage of those who would use evo-psy as their favored explanatory framework.

That framing has been all the fashion for several decades among the college educated class in the English speaking world.  I have the feeling that it has surpassed previously favored framing, Freudian, behaviorist, and other deterministic systems in number of adherents and the strength of their faith in it.  It is the ultimate Darwinian reduction and our academic training has a profound faith in that kind of molecular reductionist creed.   Dawkins' specialty is in coming up with easily presented plausible scenarios to support that faith.   He is the most successful catechist of his denomination of the wider materialist faith.  And, as did Freud and others before him, he claims to have Darwin on his side.  There is nothing in this faith which has more ritualistic potency than the invocation of Charles Darwin.

When I first started participating in blogs, reading them, commenting on them, the use of the word "meme" rather astonished me.   I'd half forgotten the word from having read The Selfish Gene shortly after it came out.  For a long time I couldn't remember where I'd seen the term before or what it was supposed to mean.  Then I remembered thinking the word was one of the minor bad ideas contained in that book full of bad ideas.   I think that it coming from so many people who believed themselves to be left of center kind of disturbed me.  And, reading more of what they were writing, it was clear they'd pretty much bought the whole Sociobiological, evo-psy line without realizing it was a complete contradiction of their alleged political ideology.  To put it in ancient terms of their faith, they were conflicted.  But, unlike their desire justice, which is a hard sell to the best of us, the belief in determinism is framed in terms of science, which, in their actual faith, produces reliable information.  Science is seen as possessing the key to complete and absolute knowledge, the irrefutable oracle which shows things as they really are, all others being obscure and unreliable and, let's put it honestly, evil.  

I will say it plainly, the beliefs most of us carry about science are as credulously superstitious as those that fundamentalists carry about their favored scriptures. The childlike faith in that view of science is no less a denial of what science is and a desperate belief in what it not only is not but which it never really claimed to be.  And in no other area is this the case than in those who believe in the alleged science of thought and thinking.   The impossibility of performing the most basic of scientific requirements,  observation and real measurement, the absolute reliance on self-reporting of thoughts by the most unobjective of parties, the total absence of physical artifacts of thoughts in the past, require that something be substituted in place of those required actions.   What is generally substituted are scenarios and schemes based in promissory materialism, asserting what "must be" there because in materialism and previously existing materialist framing of that - the most popular current one, natural selection - it is asserted no other explanation is as coherent with that framing.   It is really no different from the elaborate "Marxist" or theological systems built to be coherent with the theory, not with observable reality physically attached to it.   Materialism applied to invisible, unobservable "entities" is no more reliable than any other thought about what cannot be seen, measured, analyzed and measured against observable.  Materialism relies on some kind of metaphysical thinking no matter how much the materialist claims not to be doing exactly what they so obviously have to to arrive at their belief.


The political impotence of contemporary liberalism is something that is also endlessly discussed on the putatively liberal blogs, the same ones that spout Dawkinsian materialism, not comprehending that they are supporting their "liberalism" with the poison that weakens and eventually kills their more idealistic aspirations.  

Liberals will have to make a choice between those two faiths, the one exemplified in the most real terms, political change that made life better for millions of people and which provides the only proven force to continue that change, or in the pseudo-scientific negation of the reality of what liberalism requires.   That someone working in the quasi-academic, quasi-scientific milieu that Dawkins has can be expected to spout fashionable positions that are common to it.   That some of those generally trend towards some of the positions more reliably supported by traditional liberalism isn't a big surprise.   But, considering what else comes with the Dawkinsite faith,  that is unsustainable.   It has certainly proven to be politically impotent, as the political situation in Britain, the United States and other English speaking countries since the publication of The Selfish Gene and its adoption as an article of faith in the college educated class shows.  It has extended a trend that began under the influence of its preceding materialist creeds, most notably behaviorism.  

Liberalism requires faith in the reality of its prerequisites and goals.   And since making real political change of that kind requires overcoming the massive combined powers of selfishness, greed, egocentricity, custom and ignorance, and those codified in preexisting laws and legal dogmas - which massively favor the wealthy and powerful - that liberal faith has to be extremely strong, strong enough to lead to effective action based in risk and self sacrifice.   What is represented to be liberalism today can't even rouse itself to believe in the reality of its goals.  It has replaced that faith with a cynical, dyspeptic view of life that is the emblem of ideals damaged and obliterated with materialism and its extensions.  The small and inadequate progress made towards justice, towards a moral life and society based in equality and inherent rights is not founded in materialism but in escaping it.  

Evolutionary psychology is only the most recent but also one of the most effective weapons that damages American style liberalism, its idealistic and non-material basis and the power of personal belief, even to absolute conviction, that powers it in a political context.  That people like David Brooks find its basis and results congenial to his politics is telling, I would say definitively refuting, in so far as it is compatible with liberalism is concerned.  I think it is far more of an impediment to real liberalism than biblical fundamentalism is.   The biblical requirement to do justice, as asserted by the Jewish prophets back into the earliest books of the First Testament asserts the reality of justice, morals and the equal right all people have to those things.  As seen in the quote from Richard Dawkins, materialism denies the real reality of those things.   I think that it is more likely that a religious fundamentalist will listen to their conscience and escape the limits and contradictions of their creed to work for justice than it is that someone benighted by something asserted to be science will.  And believing that the core of the moral teaching of their tradition as expounded by the prophets, to do justice and not to do to others that which is hateful to them, they will actually do the work of making that happen in reality.   I've lost my faith in materialism to do that, I think it will always, as a result of its core beliefs, trend in the other direction no matter what it professes in contradiction to that belief.

Materialism, in the end, is a static system,  as cyclical and deterministic as so many ancient systems of belief are presented to be.  It is as determined as the bonding of atoms and molecules, the thing that all of its reality consists of.  You have to have something else to escape that kind of thing, with its biological casts and determinations.  You have to believe in the massively difficult to believe reality of morals and justice and the possibility of people to freely choose to act in contradiction of natural selection, producing the only possible escape from that dreary spiral of survival of the fittest, the ultimate emergent manifestation of that molecular chemistry.   The Reverend King's cosmology requires movement and change for which materialism contains insufficient space or scope.