Archive for September, 2011

Death and The Maiden

September 30, 2011

Sad people make you sad.

By fortune alone I spent 33 years, 7 months, and 14 days, not having attended a funeral. No close friends, and only a few distant (in geography and mind) aunts and uncles have passed, and with little emotional strain. My grandparents were all dead before I was born, save one, my maternal grandmother. I was spared having to say goodbye to the old girl due to my still being a bit too tender, and my memory of a feminine Jabba shrouded in a Rothmans-blue haze remains uncorrupted for not having seen her in state.

But my remarkable record was shattered this summer, as I felt somewhat pressed to attend my (now former) manager’s service. She died abruptly and without warning from a brain aneurysm, suffered just inside the doorway linking the clubhouse to the terrace. As I am employed by a family owned and operated business, the club immediately suffered the loss of several employees, and those of us not tied to the business by relations, picked up the slack.

I cannot say I felt any personal loss for the passing of a woman I knew for only two months. She was polite and pleasant but essentially an acquaintance, though given the genuine warmth she engendered in the obviously large body of friends and admirers she collected, I suspect I too would have succumbed to her nature should she have lived. However, despite lacking a profound personal connection to the deceased, I nonetheless found myself suffering the effects of emotional strain.

I think most anyone would probably characterize me as slightly detached or distant. Not an emotionless monster, but nonetheless rarely breaking from an outwardly steady demeanor. I therefore found myself slightly surprised at feeling down for a few weeks after the death. As I have said, the death itself meant only so much, so direct loss was not the culprit. The cause was simply an endless string of unhappy people at work; tears, family members, friends hugging, the looming funeral, the “I just can’t believe it”, and the ever present demand that I am to respond with remorse disproportionate to what I am feeling.

An ugly situation. Social adequacy dependent on playing a part as if  in a play  in an improv group. I imagine I felt something akin to what an actor in a particularly dark or depressing role must endure when not working -that it is impossible to entirely let go. That if you pretend to have certain feelings… then you will feel them.

Best to just avoid the buzz kills.

Robin Lindsay



Atoms Go Dutch

September 21, 2011

Everyone is a philosopher.

Core beliefs, assumptions, convictions, dislikes, preferences, and guesses, when bundled together in a holistic faggot become a worldview. To varying complexity, people trot about their daily lives with a host of viewpoints, some consciously and painstakingly put together through years of toil, and others unconsciously, the product of chance but nonetheless subject to examination (if challenged). What is true, is that regardless of whether someone lives an examined life, or if the underpinning of their values is important to them, their values have foundations and are subject to both criticism and praise.

Recently, I encountered a sentiment I take issue with. Essentially, the notion that because some people do not reduce their viewpoints to a combination of facts and logic (philosophy, aka rational argument) then their point of view is somehow not subject to scrutiny. I find this notion both disturbing and more than little baffling. While there are some fundamental ideas I accept but cannot defend from first principles (e.g. why is it good to be nice? why should we value evidence and reason? how do we know rocks dont feel pain?) I can proceed to defend other ideas when making those assumptions. Given that anyone who isn’t either a sociopath or medieval accepts and values niceness and evidence, it is generally safe to proceed as if both my readers and opponents share those assumptions.

Though you’d never know it.

In my aforementioned encounter, a religious apologist friend had this to say

So someone down on their luck will meet a kind religious person (of any religion) and will pick up on their kindness and that will draw them to their religion, as opposed to being won over by a philosophical argument.

In short, not everyone is a philosopher and sees the world in philosophical/empirical terms ….

I agree completely with the above statement. I am sure that it is almost certainly true that in the vast number of cases new converts to a religion are not won via philosophical argument. I would also guess that a great number of people born into varying religions are also simply adopting what amounts to a cultural practice. What I cannot accept, dear reader, is the implication that such things are at all acceptable. That it is in anyway okay to support an organization absent of a reasonable inquiry.

Let’s start with an extreme example, if only to illustrate the point, and then move toward the middle lest we are accused of only cherry picking the worst. Cults.  From Moonies to Scientologists, and Jonestowners to Russian death cults, people down on their luck or desperate to incorporate some meaning into their lives, are Hoovered up by these sycophantic and sometimes lethal organizations. It is precisely because someone encounters such an organization without their rational lens in perfect working order that is the problem. David Koresh would get nowhere at a TED convention.

What about the Salvation Army? A rabidly Christian group that does a great deal to feed and clothe the destitute. They also (rather callously in my opinion) temporarily shut down operations in NYC when the city chose to offer marriage benefits to same sex partners. Now, we can debate the relative harm/good of the Salvation Army and come to a nuanced conclusion about whether people in good conscience can still support them. What we can’t do, is have such a discussion with someone who refuses (or is ill equipped) to engage in such a talk, and that is a problem.

Lastly, what I have no time for, is giving allowances to people who are mentally lazy, or stupid, or poorly read, or subject to a tyrannical culture, or otherwise incapable of fully examining a creed to which they claim to adhere but know little about. They deserve every chance of changing their lot, of developing a complex worldview full of greys, but do not deserve to have a naive and poorly voiced opinion given respect or weight.

No one would hire me to fly a plane, or build a bridge, or split an atom. Rightly so.

Robin Lindsay


Tabula Cluttered

September 1, 2011

500 miniature essays will teach you something about yourself, if nothing else.

Spurts of prodigious writing must stall or hiccup. A linear and obvious remedy is to write about writing, and there we are. I can’t claim sufficient expertise in letters to offer meaningful commentary on what makes good writing, but I can boast superior knowledge on what writing has taught me – something on the spectrum between deluded misapprehension and very slightly enlightened.

I mostly write philosophy. Marshalling my faculties to nanny an argument to it’s logical conclusion, with some attempt at clarity and entertainment, represents the alpha’s share of what I have done. My major hobby horses are atheism and a broad fury for anything muddled, ill conceived, or otherwise failing to add up. My blogs are mostly informed by abstract ideas I mull over whilst pooping, walking, chores, and other mundane activities that keep me away from tv and games. Consequentemente, I do not draw from the well of Jersey Shore or current events (much) and am left with plucking ideas from the ether, or stealing them from genuinely informed and informative heros like Pinker or Hitchens.

The major benefits of writing out a lengthy argument are that should you ever be faced with a discussion about similar topics then you will find yourself well prepared. You know what you think and how to present your thoughts – maximizing your chances of being understood (no small consideration in a philosophical discussion). It is interesting to note that knowing what you think is not always obvious. Unless one is in the unfortunate habit of stumbling through intellectual life armed only with preconceptions, then completing the sometimes trying process of delineating premise to conclusion is undoubtably necessary. In other words, writing out why you think what you think you think might change what it is you think after all.

Writing philosophy is also humbling. Not for the simple fact that much of what you have to say is little more than a naive regurgitation of the work of smarter men, but for how it teaches you how few topics you really have any purchase on. It takes very little effort to prove to yourself that even the great polymaths still limited themselves to a few fields. Even da Vinci limited himself to painting and applied sciences. So it is no wonder that unless your scribbling endeavors take you to the world of journalism, then repetition is an inevitability. There is little doubt I will again call Jesus a spaz.

Even reading over what I have written just now is suggestive of the whole body of writing I have completed over these past three years. Self conscious and referential that it is, I am still stuck in the rut(?) of premise to conclusion, with rigour giving way to brevity for the sake of readability.

Such is the blogosphere.

Robin Lindsay


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