Archive for December, 2010

Crazy People are Boring

December 30, 2010

So I removed him.

My attitude toward social networking has remained essentially unchanged since the days of Myspace.com (I missed out on the Friendster phenom). One is not to take net-based socializing seriously, or perhaps more to the point, not to take it any more seriously than a bit of gossip bookended by a game of Scrabble and shoe box of embarrassing photos from 1994. However, a recent event has me feeling a bit sick and longing for my halcyon days of care free networking.

Robin Lindsay thinks your philosophical outlook amounts to: what if we are all living in the matrix… dude?

Above is a status update of mine. Typical for being mostly non serious, but also for the subject matter being a favourite target of mine: flakey cosmic stoner philosophy. It quickly resulted in a few comments by those who got the joke, and then a full on and remorseless debate between myself and a routine antagonist. That debate, like most, I welcomed, and despite being a confrontation with little quarter given and no end in sight, was not a vehicle for bruised feelings or personal insults.

But in walked another. You know the type. Overly sincere. Irony is lost on them. Somewhat paranoid. This fellow from my past injected himself into a conversation above his head, and when I failed to agree with his assertion that “I should stop wasting my time with…” had this to say:

“you are controlled by emotion. you would state the opposite of what I said, no matter which, if only to be contrary. you have no control of yourself and could easily[sic]played like a fiddle.”

I gave him the chance to explain this overtly hostile and insulting remark, but he pressed on with “you always disagree with what I say” and a list of further character assassinations. For the record, we have had precisely one other conversation, very short, and unremarkable. So, I did the only thing I thought appropriate: I deleted his posts for being embarrassing to the both of us, and removed him from my friends list.

Ugh. Much like a draftee might resent his government for turning him into a killer, I now resent my former friend for making me be harsh with him – to take Facebook seriously. The situation is further complicated by what might be a real-life encounter at a NYE party, hosted by a mutual friend.

I feel compelled to write to an advice columnist. Perhaps Prudence, at Slate.

Dear Prudie,

A nutter insulted me on Facebook and then I deleted him. I might have to see him on NYE, and don’t know how to handle it. What should I do? Avert my eyes? Pretend nothing happened? Try to make peace? Prepare for hostilities to continue?

Crazy-people-are-boring-and-make-my-life-hard.


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Fun and Mental Seeks Marriage of Ancient Philosophy and Nuclear Weapons

December 20, 2010

Some faiths are better than others.

The debates between religious apologists and those critical of religion often run aground for the question of fundamentalism. The secular liberal, eager to avoid even a hint of a whiff of cultural imperialism, concedes that yes, religious fundamentalists are dangerous and a problem. But always with the caveat …but as they represent a minority, we cannot condemn a religion for the acts of bad apples.

The fundamental tenet of Jainism is non violence. To arrive at this very natural conclusion about the philosophy of Jainism does not require one to cut a path through a dense intellectual jungle of contradictions, or perform acrobatics to arrive safely and well poised on the mat of moral certainty in regards to Jainism. To be a Jain is to be non violent, and no manner of twisting or interpretation will lead even the most devout Jain to blow themselves up in a Bombay market. To be a Jain extremist is to walk with your eyes focused on the ground so as to avoid squishing a bug underfoot, or to filter your water with cheese cloth so as to avoid eating same. Simply put: the more crazy the Jain, the less we have to worry about them.

Something similar can be said of Quakers and the Amish et al. Those religions are religions of passivity. No imaginable corruption of faith would permit a Quaker to reconcile their Quakerism with blowing up a school bus. Something similar can not be said of the world’s most popular religion among suicide bombers.

There is no such thing as Quaker military jurisprudence, or Amish military jurisprudence, or Jain military jurisprudence. Islamic military jurisprudence, on the other hand, is all too real and consequential. A set of laws (and not the only set) evolving from the Qur’an and the Hadith, and used not merely as justification for deadly violence, but for engaging in said violence with enthusiasm and total certainty that one is virtuous for spreading death in the name of Allah.

It should be plain that fundamentalism is not a problem per se. Fundamentalist Quakers will not turn to beheading journalists to further Quakerism, and will not be at the controls of the next airplane to hit a skyscraper at 800 kilometers an hour. The natural inference, and if you take nothing else from this please take this; it matters what the books say.

The enlightened secular liberal, full of respect for notions of cultural diversity and relative values, and readily and desperately acknowledging a so called ‘sophisticated’ faith a few of his friends espouse, views the religiously motivated terrorist as being anything but religiously motivated. He points to American imperialism. He points to economic hardship. He points to the myriad of local factors that result in disenfranchised young men turning to Islam for having nothing else… to turn to. But what is this Islam? Are we to take the specifics of this faith as incidental?

To sum: if you had to choose a religion for the country next door, and you had to choose between Wahabi Islam and The United Church, which would you choose? If you think the only appropriate means of choosing is flipping a coin, then you disagree with everything said thus far. Otherwise, you admit that some religions are preferable, and the reason they are preferable is for the literal meaning of their written philosophy.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

Wikileaks Desperately Seeking Someone Who Cares

December 13, 2010

Wikileaks leads to more work for journalists, not less.

Obsession with the Wikileaks story lead to my combing old interviews, speeches, panel discussions, and everything else in an attempt to understand the man behind it all. But it was an almost casual aside by Julian Assange during a modest panel discussion at Berkley that inspired what follows.

Responding to a question about why Wikileaks altered its format, moving from raw data to writing articles, Assange provided an interesting insight into the way people work, and what they use the internet for. The founders of Wikileaks thought the general public, with their predisposition to spending free time updating Wikipedia or blogging, would jump at the chance to mine Wikileaks, to put their efforts into developing real stories. The reality, is that before Wikileaks started writing their own articles, contextualizing and categorizing, and utilizing the resources of the mainstream press, material went untouched and then forgotten.

“People blog about their values” offered Assange in an attempt at explanation. Indeed, the hope of rallying the general public to do the work of a journalist was naive, though one can understand the blinders. We, the general public, are all too aware of the half truths and obfuscation perpetrated by governments and big business, and that the mainstream media is but a pawn of our duly elected and self appointed overlords alike. Be that as it may, the urgency and importance of combating said machine is hardly a priority in our lives, and nor is it particularly entertaining.

People will write about what they want to write about is as succinct, if leaden, a way it can be put. For much the same reason, we have charities specializing in particular causes, and not simply one body we call ‘Charity.’ Young women need little prodding to volunteer to help stop breast cancer, but those same spunky first years will fail to rally for better veteran’s benefits. A democratically run centre for charity, doling out funds wherever it is deemed most worthy may seem like an ideal, but the consequence of such a system would be to foster ambivalence amongst those predisposed to getting themselves behind a cause.

Guilty as charged. I am not about to dedicate my free time to peeling away the black of a redacted government cable, but will continue motoring along my chosen path – calling Jesus a spaz and desperately trying to convince you that pedantry and the love of language are not compatible.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

When Sally Met Ann

December 7, 2010

There are moral truths, or the word moral is an empty word.

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris asks the reader to abandon what has become a cliche in the philosophy of science; that science has nothing to say about morality.  We must first accept a premise: for something to be moral, it must foster well being in sentient creatures. To put it differently, if an action that runs counter to well being can be called moral, then morality ceases to have any purchase on the real world. To have any meaning whatsoever.

The secular world often bumps heads with the religious over this very point. If one gets their morality from God, then what is moral is mandated by the heavens, or more accurately, by an ancient semi-literate desert-dweller for whom a wheelbarrow is an emergent technology. Don’t be fooled, the marriage of morality and God is not limited to fringe elements, but is a mainstream belief held by millions of Christians and Muslims alike.

Take this utterly disgusting and disturbing piece of news brought to my attention just yesterday. The Salvation Army is threatening to withdraw its services as a charitable organization in NYC if benefits are offered to same sex employees. The Salvation Army may feed the hungry and heal the sick for their religious convictions, but will snatch it away just as quickly for same. Last March, Catholic Charities in Washington DC had a less extreme reaction to similar legislation for same sex benefits, and withdrew all employee benefits  lest they be forced into recognizing a same sex union.

The immorality of such actions threatened by the Salvation Army and perpetrated by the Catholics is obvious and extreme. To wield the downtrodden as a blunt and disposable political weapon against secular society is an unforgivable transgression of simple human values, and without justification – that is, unless one subscribes to a morality inspired by the heavens.

There exists a divide. There are those who seek practical solutions, and out of a sense of humanist solidarity, or for the simple notion that charity, welfare, and healthcare are in the best interests of everyone. Then there are those who also believe in good works, and yet require divine permission to carry them out. Those that believe what happens on this Earth is not as important as what happens in heaven. That those same good works are subordinate to the word of God.

A hypothesis: human suffering will increase if a publicly subsidized religious charity closes shop in NYC.

A yes or no question, testable, and falsifiable. Science.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

The Greys

December 2, 2010

Throwing her arms in the air in bemused exasperation she exclaimed “I don’t get sports.”

The other night between bouts of Quizzard, the lone female in the room availed herself of the opportunity to inquire as to the male obsession with sports. I have to admit that I might not be the best person to ask, as my sporting obsessions tend toward individual contests; whiling away entire afternoons in front of the television watching golf, tennis, or snooker will no doubt maintain as habits for years to come.

That said, I have enjoyed the occasional baseball game, and even football can prove diverting. Hockey or basketball not so much, though World Cup soccer has the capacity to engage my full attention for a game or two (especially if the UK are taking on the Krauts). The Olympics are a big snooze. Running? Throw the thing? That manages to engage the attention of adults? I have to admit I have for some time wanted to be an Eastern European spy who also happens to be a Biathlon (that’s gun-skiing to you) medalist, but that’s a story for another day.

The appeal of sports is rooted in four major concepts: vicarious competition, tribalism, and appreciation for athletic aesthetics are the obvious first three. The fourth, less obvious but entirely indispensable, is the narrative. Each and every game of anything is also a story, and not only is the story about the events that transpire over  the next couple of hours, but it is also a tale in context. What and who do these teams represent? Are the big, bad, and rich New York Yankees bashing a small market minnow into submission? Will the minnow prove to be a David in the face of Goliath? Or are The Yankees taking on their arch nemesis, The Boston Red Sox – the darlings of perennial vigils held in hope of an eventual victory in the face of The Evil Empire (until recently anyway, they finally won).

Sports are dramatic. Yes, it is cheap drama, and the tension no more sophisticated than that built by a nauseating television program about hot doctors screwing each other… but no less either. Males like sports because they are allegories for murder and conflict – the stuff of many a good story.

So, I raise my arms and ask: How can anyone who claims to be a grown up willingly sit through an episode of Grey’s Anatomy?


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