Monday, October 8, 2012

Conflict Engines

So, this blogpost is going to be a little more difficult, perhaps a little more densely packed. Put on your metaphorical hard-hats, and prepare for some rampant conceptual discussion... ;)


Exhorting Exhortation

The real enemy of civilization, and of peace, is the prescription to evangelize, by whatever name you call it - jihad, proselytizing, indoctrination, brainwashing, or more philosophically, prescriptivity). In some more modern ideological camps, it is conflated with "education." It is a function of every ideology, every dogma, every moral realist doctrine. It is the perpetuation engine of a given ideology. The ideology tells you to spread the word.

Now, this function is to be understood separately from the particular prescriptions of a given ideology itself. It is the empetus to spread the ideology, built into the ideology. It is the source of the proselytizing mindset, whatever the particulars of a given ideology. Often we hear people refer to the particular prescriptions of a given ideology and seemingly think that's the end of the story, thereby justifying one ideology over another while keeping the prescriptive function. I think I shall call this the "Sam Harris Fallacy."

When I suggest critique of prescriptivity, I am suggesting much more than a mere critique of this or that moral prescription. It is not enough for me to look at, say, Islam and proclaim that it is more evil than, say, Hinduism because it prescribes stoning people. That is certainly interesting, but it is only one symptom of a much greater disease. I am suggesting a critique of prescriptivity itself - of the self-perpetuation meme of moral realism.

Who We Are

When you hear people speak of the difference between teaching children what to think and teaching them how to think, this is, in part, what is being pointed at. Teaching children how to think is to teach critical inquiry, including (perhaps even especially) into one's own ideas. This is, of course, antithetical to the rampant and pernicious notion that we are our beliefs. To be critically minded is to be beyond even your own beliefs, to be something more than a mere collection of truth-conceits. It is to entertain an idea without believing it.

Ever hear the statements...
"Stick to your guns."
"Never let them change who you are."
"Do what's right, not what you're told."
...and the like?
These are symptomatic expressions of a sickness built into our relationship with our own ideas. These prescribe that we identify ourselves, indeed define ourselves, in terms of our beliefs, in terms of mere ideas. Actually, it's even more insidious than that. They prescribe we define ourselves in terms of ideas outside ourselves that we are then to emphatically urged (sometimes coerced) into internalizing as our own.

Moral Democracy

This prescriptivity function prevents the democratization of morality, prevents a context of peaceful disagreement from being developed. It keeps people in polarized hysterics, screaming fanatics, inflexible and reflexively violent. It locks people into being cogs in dogmatic meat grinders, servants of dogma, rather than as actual participants in the open social negotiation of societal norms and mores.

One may think one is "participating" by promoting one's dogma, but you aren't actually participating in the negotiation at all. There is no negotiation to participate in. You are merely one more inflexible hard-liner subserviently pushing absolutism by metaphorically (and sometimes literally) screaming on a street corner. You are specifically prohibited from negotiating the prescriptions of the ideology.

Now some may disingenuously try to characterize all these screaming fanatics seeking to push their fanaticism as a kind of negotiation process, but it is missing an important aspect - that these are not negotiating with each other. There is no understanding that mores and norms are subject to negotiation. There is only a banging of fists on the tabletop in the name of this or that absolutist hard line, seeking to make their hard line the hard line.

As long as we think morality is an objective fact (moral realism), rather than as a negotiated social construct, we are doomed to reflexively violent and intractable conflict. Ideologies are conflict engines, and religions are the paradigm cases of conflict engines run amok, prescribing prescriptivity.

Yes, I did just conclude that religions are the enemies of civilization.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Wilderness of Mirrors

I'm almost 50 years old. When I was growing up, an atheist, it was a different environment, one with a domineering (even if not quite so dominant) ideology demanding compliance with its orthodoxy requirements - on pain of excommunication/shunning. Sadly, a necessary, practical part of being an atheist was defying this regime of social control in the name of ideology. One had to be independently-minded. We learned to be determined; we learned to be critical; we learned the dangers of ideological orthodoxy mindsets - how, in their quest for control over all discourse, they hobble conversation and stifle inquiry. And we knew first hand the kinds of tactics, rhetorical and otherwise, that were employed. There were real consequences to being atheists then. Some of those consequences even still exist even today.

Well, here we are again. It is a property of ideology (any ideology) that they seek to control discourse and stifle inquiry. And exclusion is always used as an enforcement tactic. It doesn't matter whether you agree with the tenets of the ideology or not, ideology itself remains the same. This is why Atheism+ is receiving such a vigorously unhappy response. The control-minded persons at its foul heart are not just advocating their views; they are seeking to restrict other views from being expressed, and see any method as appropriate in the name of "the cause."

Now, Matt Dillahunty (of Atheist Experience "fame") is having an apology demanded of him because some are butt-hurt that he would have the temerity to dare not comply with absolute precision to their requirements, and in the name of being personally offended, are seeking a very specific indication that he is "one of them." I can't say I have much sympathy for Dillahunty - he brought it on himself, and tried to bring it on the rest of us, too, but he should realize that his illustrious self has no special copyright on exposing flaws in thinking.

Welcome to the world of ideological orthodoxy requirements and secular shunning, Dillahunty. You deserve it for endorsing it. Revel in it. Welcome to what it was like living in a social order dominated by the religious and their demands, because that's also what Atheism+ is.

Welcome to the atheists' experience, Dillahunty.

As a young atheist, I stood firm against theism and its ideological orthodoxy requirements. I dared to inquire; I dared to critique. It was what was needed at the time. I was an atheist despite that it wasn't trendy, edgy, popular, or profitable - quite the opposite in fact. I advocated for free and open critical inquiry, despite that the dogmatic theists really hated that. I was told I was less than human by preachers, that I was just being defiant for its own sake, that I was a moral monster, that I was just angry, that there was something wrong with me. These arguments were leveled against all atheists. We now recognize these arguments for what they were...sordid rhetorical ploys.

...or we did, until Atheism+ reared its dogmatic head.

Defending free and open inquiry is perhaps one of the most thankless stances one can adopt, because many are all for free expression when it is their ideas being expressed - not so much when it is someone else's opposed ideas. To focus on the conversation itself rather than the particular content is difficult, perhaps too difficult for many.

But here I am, keeping a vigil, just a voice in the crowd, in the perhaps vain hope that the free and open inquiries are never silenced - not by anyone...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Blasphemy Day

People who promote or support blasphemy laws are most definitely not engaging in mutual respect and full communication. Quite the opposite. They seek to control and hobble discourse by using their deliberate petulance as a tawdry rhetorical ploy. This is both a matter of mere convenience and a logical error (appeal to emotion).

No subject matter is ever advanced by bobbleheading and eternal recapitulation to stagnant ideas. Only critical inquiry advances a subject matter. An environment where critical inquiry is possible is necessary for advancing any subject matter - and that's why the islamic world contributes nothing to any subject matter, since Abū Ḥāmed Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī. All inquiry is stifled by petulant orthodoxy requirements. Most of the rest of humanity has learned the lesson. Islam refuses to learn anything, by doctrine. This (and nearly identical issues with chritianity, hinduism, and others) is why September 30th is now Blasphemy Day, celebrated by forward thinking, progressive, and free people - people who understand the difference between words and violence and the importance of free and open inquiry.

Respect applies to people, not to ideas (people and ideas are not equivalent), however much ideas may be cherished, Even then, respect must be earned - it is not some sort of entitlement. People who do not understand this are usually those incapable of distinguishing between words and violence (a criterion of civilization and living with other human beings).

And this is why Draw Muhammad Day exists. To try to teach people, through causing them to become desensitized, the difference between words (or images) and violence. If you are provoked to violence by a stick figure that is your failing, your reflexively violent tendency, your lack of understanding, your lack of civilization, your responsibility, not anyone else's.

This post also explains why I continue to oppose Atheism+.