Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Idyll Never Again

January 29, 2013

I sympathize with Idle No More, but I don’t think the goals realistic or desirable

The aboriginal peoples of Canada have gathered in common cause. Idle No More; a movement with the explicitly stated goals of environmental protection and native sovereignty. From squalid reserves to broken treaties, the indigenous people of Canada are in desperate plight and can demonstrate legitimate grievance. However, if there is a fundamental flaw in the institution that uniquely addresses Canadian aboriginals, it might be that it exists at all. Reserve life is a failed experiment, and would be in no way worthy of rehabilitation if we weren’t mired in it for the foreseeable future.

When Europeans, armed with steel and pox, came to Canada 400 years ago, they came into conflict with a people very familiar; warlike, greedy, racist, proud, prone to convenience, and not very bright. In other words, the Europeans and Canadian Aboriginals were human beings alike, and what separated them was technology. Speaking as someone who grew up in Canada, exposed to endless vignettes and culturally sensitive middle school textbooks, I was influenced by all manner of stories about “using all parts of the buffalo” and the profound spiritual connection of Native Canadians to the land. Such stories are pure invention, as buffalo jumps and the setting of massive fires to drive game strongly attest. The Native Canadians of yesteryear were a defeated people, outclassed by a European tribe with motives akin to their own.

As Canadians, we lean toward the mosaic side of the cultural mosaic versus melting pot debate, and in the case of the aboriginal people of Canada, that attitude has not served us very well. Allow me a brief aside and an analogy to illustrate my point. In a episode of Law & Order, Lt. Van Buren (a black woman, and the person in charge of her precinct) is told by a racist perp to “Go back to Nairobi, or wherever it is you came from” to which Van Buren replied “I’m from Brooklyn.” Van Buren wins the argument by the simple fact that she is an American, no matter her African heritage.

Now picture a post antebellum America, where former slaves are herded into reserves, guaranteed certain rights, and encouraged to preserve their African culture in isolation. We’d have another case of “our culture” and “their culture.” Instead, despite all the problems still facing the American black person, American culture is part black, and that subculture grows organically and influences every part of American life – from the presidency to the listening habits of suburban white kids. In Canada, in the case of our aboriginals, we have encouraged “their” identity…

It might seem easy for a white male living in a country dominated by white males to dismiss the value of another culture. To insist that “they” integrate instead of preserving their heritage. And yes, it is easy. However, cultures since the dawn of humanity of come and gone, and perhaps more importantly, mutate and change. Artificially preserving cultures despite their lack of material success results in stagnation, and as has been proven by the grotesque failure of reserve life, promotes little more than a perpetual reminder of what once was, and can never be again.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[@]gmail.com

Zero Dark

January 26, 2013

Naomi Wolf’s critique of Zero Dark Thirty is disgraceful and silly.

As an Al Qaeda junkie (that is, a junkie for Al Qaeda, not a drug addled Islamist) Zero Dark Thirty was essential viewing if only to maintain contact with the zeitgeist. Vetting the specifics of the top secret decade long hunt for UBL is a task above my pay grade, but fragmentary information both insightful and compelling is available to those patient enough to sit through every Peter Bergen interview on Youtube, and forgo Jon Stewart for Charlie Rose.

Third Wave Feminist and author Naomi Wolf panned Zero Dark Thirty, and compared Kathryn Bigelow to Leni Riefensthal. Her thesis reads as follows:

Your film Zero Dark Thirty is a huge hit here. But in falsely justifying, in scene after scene, the torture of detainees in “the global war on terror”, Zero Dark Thirty is a gorgeously-shot, two-hour ad for keeping intelligence agents who committed crimes against Guantánamo prisoners out of jail. It makes heroes and heroines out of people who committed violent crimes against other people based on their race – something that has historical precedent.

The first 45 minutes of Zero Dark Thirty consists mainly of a series of difficult and escalating torture scenes. The victims are Arabs in the employ of Al Qaeda, and the torturers are agents of the US government. There is some debate, and a denial by the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the torturing of detainees led to information relevant to the UBL hunt, but Naomi Wolf’s accusation that Bigelow is a shill for the CIA or that the torture was motivated by race (Abu Grahib notwithstanding) lacks even the appearance of credibility.

First, the naked brutality of the coercive interrogation scenes is counterproductive to a defense of torture, if only on an emotional level. A film can explore torture in many ways; a glossing over, avoidance, hinting, Hostel-style over the top nightmare, etc. Zero Dark Thirty acting as cinematic propaganda on behalf of the CIA could have easily presented torture in a more palatable form, and in a fraction of the screen time. But the film makers chose to expose the audience to “scene after scene,” as Naomi Wolf puts it, of filthy violence and shocking misery.

Second, information gained from torture is a mix of useful intelligence coupled with misinformation and confusion. Zero Dark Thirty tries to tell that mushroomed swamp of a story, not defend or condemn it. If Bigelow had failed to include torture scenes in the film, she could have equally been accused of a coverup. Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t take a stance on the ethics of torture, and if the movie has a point of view on the practical results, it’s that the “break” in the case came in the form of a forgotten file, lost in the myriad of post 9/11 tips and only unearthed by years of squatting with a hammer and chisel.

Your film claims, in many scenes, that CIA torture was redeemed by the “information” it “secured”, information that, according to your script, led to Bin Laden’s capture. This narrative is a form of manufacture of innocence to mask a great crime: what your script blithely calls “the detainee program”.

Perhaps I am thick or grossly inattentive, but I cannot think of any scenes in the film that can be fairly couched as “redeeming” of anything. Nor can I fathom the rationale behind the scare quotes flanking the words “information” and “secured” in the above paragraph. What caveats of doubt or implication are we to infer? That the information wasn’t information? That it wasn’t secured but something else? Forgive my repetition, but torture is occasionally useful, and the bare facts of that doesn’t speak to whether it is ethical, or if other techniques are more effective. Nor do I think acknowledging that is at all controversial.

Could some of the seduction be financing? It is very hard to get a film without a pro-military message, such as The Hurt Locker, funded and financed. But according to sources in the film industry, the more pro-military your message is, the more kinds of help you currently can get: from personnel, to sets, to technology – a point I made in my argument about the recent militarized Katy Perry video.

Aside from the simple fact that there is nothing inherently unseemly about a film with a pro military message, Zero Dark Thirty’s military message is limited to showing the breathtaking competence and ruthlessness of the Navy Seals, and only in the final 30 minutes of the film. Women are shot. Wounded and defenseless men are shot. Children are terrorized and are subject to lethal risk. What about those difficult truths strikes you, dear reader, as pro military? The mission as portrayed was ugly, and brutal, and ethically complicated, and in no intellectually defensible way could be called “pro military.”

As for the seeming necessity for film makers to grovel and compromise with the military, I draw your attention to the grammar of the second sentence quoted above. The Hurt Locker was made before Zero Dark Thirty, and the success of The Hurt Locker translates to Academy Award winning director Kathryn Bigelow being able to make any movie she wants. The jump in budget from $15 million (for Hurt Locker) to $40 million for Zero Dark Thirty is clear evidence of the trust and confidence of her backers, not for toadying.

It seems implausible that scenes such as those involving two top-secret, futuristic helicopters could be made without Pentagon help, for example.

I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to judge for yourself whether or not the helicopters in the film were, in fact, top secret futuristic helicopters, and not… something else. Oh hell, read about how they were props here if you care to. Naomi Wolf’s credibility is waning fast, and the obvious muckraking is equally disturbing.

Oh yeah, and she compared Bigelow to the Nazis:

But to me, the path your career has now taken reminds of no one so much as that other female film pioneer who became, eventually, an apologist for evil: Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl’s 1935 Triumph of the Will, which glorified Nazi military power, was a massive hit in Germany. Riefenstahl was the first female film director to be hailed worldwide.

Naomi Wolf is blithe with the truth, and does her cause a disservice. Furthermore, the poor marshalling and gaping holes in her arguments suggests either a dull mind out of her depth (something I think not the case, given her body of work) or a person so desperate to bend the world to her view that she will say anything.

Another activist more concerned with her cause than remaining in accordance with the facts. Go figure.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[@]gmail.com

The Cat

April 3, 2012

He was with us six months. We found him on the internet, and two girls brought him. He was fine, and then came that night he tried to kill us. Still, I thought things could still be okay. I was wrong.

We’d had the cat only a week. We were sleeping, and M awoke to the sound of cats fighting outside our window, and Roger growing agitated. She called out to him, and then he was upon us. In the darkness his claws tore a gash in M’s head, and I rolled out of the bed to the sound of screaming and hiss and yowl. You’ve heard the no,no,no,no cat? That sound. M reached for the light, but in the confusion cords were ripped from sockets, and frantic switch twisting went unrewarded, and Roger, bathed dimly in subtle moonlight, was between me and the overhead.

You will have to forgive me if the only descriptor to describe how I managed to get to the light is somehow. Details have grown hazy, and I am not sure I ever knew. But the harsh flash showed M’s bloodied face, and Roger at my feet. Armed with the lid of a wickerbasket as a shield (more like a train’s cowcatcher than a shield) I advanced on Roger and pushed him out of the room. M made it to the bathroom, I gave Roger some treats, and he seemed to calm down.

When I went to check on M in the bathroom we discovered I too had been injured. Four evil punctures in my left bicep. Little blood protruded, but the blackening (and later, yellowing) bruise shocked those who were to see the bite in the coming weeks.

Time passed uneventfully. Roger would see cats from his window vantage, and yowl demonically. He might get a bit hissy, but he was largely a very good cat. Loved to play, would sleep on your lap, showed no signs of general agression. In February came the second incident. It was minor, an attack on M’s leg, possibly in response to hearing cats fight some time earlier. He calmed down quickly, but something needed to be done.

After a consultation with the vet, we went with Feliway. You buy a dispenser reminiscent of a plug-in air freshener. It emits fatty acids and pheromones that supposedly act as a destresser. The vets swear by it, and have them plugged in everywhere.  Things seemed to go well. Certain “stress behaviours” he exhibited in the past seemed to disappear (cardboard chewing mainly). I was optimistic. Then, last week happened.

Sitting on the couch and watching stuff on my computer. Roger on my lap. M has gone to bed. I’m finished watching, and I stir. Roger jumps off me and on to the arm of the couch. I stand up. He jumps off the arm of the couch and onto the floor at my feet. I am standing fully tall, and looking down at him. He leaps on to my face. A full six feet into the air, and without warning. I fling him off me, wildly, and he crashes into a wooden shelving unit full of books and boardgames and a printer. He is still coming after me, yowling and agressive. I keep the couch between him and me, throwing pillows and batting him away with improvised weapons. After one or two minutes I find time to grab a large blanket and hurl it on top of him and make my escape. I yell to M to open our bedroom door (we keep it closed at night, after the first incident) and I rush in, swiftly closing the door behind me.

I am bloodied, with eight separate and distinct wounds to my face, one in the soft tissue on the upper part of my eye socket. I am shaking and my chest is tight. M is scared and concerned but keeping it together. Roger has escaped from the blanket and is outside our door, yowling. His paws protrude from under the door. He wants to keep fighting.

We clean off my wounds with some tissue – the only available first aid. The computer is still playing, loudly, and unfortunately, on a loop. The lights in the livingroom are still on. We have no access to our bathroom. We can get out of the house through a door to the outside off our bedroom, but the rest of the house is in Roger’s… paws. I decide that if he is going to calm down, I am going to need to turn the computer off, and turn out the lights. I arm myself with my traditional weapons of blanket and wicker shield (gladiatorial combat springs to mind) and I open the door. He hisses and swipes, but he is no match for the combination. I herd him to the end of the hallway, and make my way into the livingroom. All the while he is maximally agressive. There is no fear. His motivations are a mystery, but his actions are anything but defensive. There is no hide. There is only attack.

I mute the computer and switch off the overhead and retreat to the bedroom, Roger at my heels. We settle in. He yowls and scratches at the door intermittently throughout the night. Is he in physical distress? Has he simply snapped? I’ll never know.

The next morning M finds some old shoes and I don my slippers and a sweater. Unshaven, bloody, unkempt, shoeless, wallet and purseless, we shuffle down to the mercifully close vet and tell them our story. Showing admirable concern and a willingness to accept our story on its face, they lend us a largish cat carrier, a can of cat food, and some robust gloves. We make it back to the apartment around 8:30 am. It’s been 9 hours since the attack. I have had 3 hours sleep, one scrounged change coffee, and no breakfast. I put on the gloves, and steel myself once more. I am hopeful he has calmed down a little. I open the door. He lunges and yowls with reckless anger. I bat him away with my gloved hands. I am confident that he can no longer hurt me, but am at a loss as to how to control him. His wild and unrelenting agression eliminate any hope of grabbing him and stuffing him in the carrier, and short of beating him with a golf club, I have no means of subduing him. On my second attempt I manage to pin him against a wall with a blanket, but it is a clumsy catch, and I cannot scoop him up. Nonetheless, M seizes the opportunity to unlock the front door and retrieve her purse. We retreat.

Defeated, we return to the vet in search of another option. Cats are not easily overcome by oral sedatives, often detecting them in food, and spitting it out. So that is a non starter. There is only one option. Animal Control. They call on our behalf, perhaps lending the crisis some perceived legitimacy in the eyes of the city. Regardless, we meet Animal Control on our front steps only a couple of hours later.

They arrive with gloves and blankets and poles and pincers and cages. We relate our story, answer their questions, and turn away, unable to look. In 10 minutes, they had him, and emerge from our house with a blanket draped carrier. They brought him to the vet. A miserable and frightening end was soon to be visited upon him.

Still, throughout all of this, I was worried for him, and sympathetic. He was my pet and felt a responsibility to him, and it tore me in two to have to do that to him. He was neither unfriendly, or even generally agressive, and in most respects perfectly normal and fun. But even if some physical ailment might have been diagnosed and treated, how could we accept him in our home? Who would take him? How can someone live with a cat that turns homicidal whenever it suffers a tummy ache, if indeed his behaviour was in response to something physical?

Not to sound cliched or to insist on a fine edge on things, but both the vet and Animal Control told us this was the most extreme case of agression they had ever seen from a cat. There was nothing else we could have done, but that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff@gmail.com

Thin Gruel

January 23, 2012

Due to the inevitable definition diffusion words undergo as they pace through time as though a tireless miler, the word Agnostic has broken into four distinct meanings.

Nineteenth century author and literary critic Leslie Stephen wrote the sheepishly titled essay An Agnostic’s Apology. Primarily a defense of Thomas Huxley and Darwinism, the piece nonetheless hints, almost en passant, at formative attitudes toward the kissing-cousins; atheist and agnostic. Most useful, is a discussion about the almost forgotten Gnostics, almost forgotten due to the rather unfortunate pronunciation of the Gnostic negative (Ag-Nostic, instead of A-Gnostic). Lesile writes:

The Gnostic holds that our reason can, in some sense, transcend the narrow limits of experience. He holds that we can attain truths not capable of verification, and not needing verification, by actual experiment or observation. He holds, further, that a knowledge of those truths is essential to the highest interests of mankind, and enables us in some sort to solve the dark riddle of the universe. A complete solution, as everyone admits, is beyond our power. But some answer may be given to the doubts which harass and perplex us when we try to frame any adequate conception of the vast order of which we form an insignificant portion. We cannot say why this or that arrangement is what it is ; we can say, though obscurely, that some answer exists, and would be satisfactory, if we could only find it. Overpowered, as every honest and serious thinker is at times overpowered, by the sight of pain, folly, and helplessness, by the jarring discords which run through the vast harmony of the universe, we are yet enabled to hear at times a whisper that all is well, to trust to it as coming from the most authentic source, and to know that only the temporary bars of sense prevent us from recognising with certainty that the harmony beneath the discords is a reality and not a dream. This knowledge is embodied in the central dogma of theology. God is the name of the harmony ; and God is knowable.

Agnosticism, from the perspective of a 19th century theologian or philosopher, is simply the negative of the above. Note that the position of the Gnostic is not limited to the concluding sentence, but encapsulates a epistemological attitude unconcerned with the demands of hardened materialists (reread the first two sentences if that is not immediately clear).

Winding our clock forward to the 21 century we find agnostic limited strictly to the heavens, and easily married to all kinds of lazy buffoonery. This is a rather unfortunate fate for what might have otherwise been a perfectly serviceable word; a postion that one might be proud to carry a banner for. But now, dear reader, we have more confusion than clarity, exactly what do you mean by agnostic?

Intellectual Honesty

Many if not most basically secular people readily self identify as agnostics. It’s a position easily adopted and simply defended by the seemingly meek I do not know. Why this position is so appealing is obvious, for admitting to ignorance and the technical possibility of god allows one to secure an unassailable strong point of intellectual security. Yes, there is only one truly intellectually satisfying position one can take about God: I am not sure either way.

However, *thunderclap* if the above is all someone wishes to convey by their adherence to agnosticism, that there is a spectrum of belief ranging from dead certain there is (undoubting religious faith) to dead certain there isn’t (not merely atheism, but dogmatic atheism) and they fall almost all the way to the atheist side but not quite, then those people are being… very silly. You don’t need a word for the 99% agnostic, because there is already a word for that: atheist. Atheism is no more wholly dogmatic than, say, accepting free speech and yet recognizing that there might be circumstances where it should be curtailed. An atheist is unconvinced by arguments for god, and proceeds as if god does not exist. If you make your choices as if god does not exist, then you are an atheist. Get a life, and stop calling yourself an agnostic.

Unless, you are the the third and altogether more respectable type of agnostic. That is, someone who believes that the question itself, whether god exists or does not exist, is beyond our understanding. That the essential nature of all things is somehow unknowable, and that knowledge is limited to what we can gather by our senses (experience). This type of agnostic is more like the 19th century version, and has a position considerably more robust and interesting than the agnostic who merely wants to acknowledge the intellectual caveat of doubt. I disagree with this agnostic, in as much as I think the nature of god is a scientific question (either a loving god interested in the affairs of man created the universe… or it didn’t) but at least in this case we have a distinct postion on the nature of knowledge and metaphysics.

The fourth type of agnostic doesn’t know that they are really anything but. Again, this type of self identifying agnostic suffers from a position on god that doesn’t jive with their basic epistemology. Go back and read for (hopefully) the third time the opening sentences of Leslie Stephen’s thoughts on Gnostics. We all know people like that, perhaps you are one, dear reader. They/you think your mind capable of unlocking things you choose to call true about the nature of reality, without the need for a rigorous experiment or materialist foundation. That is all well and good, but if you also think the nature of god is unknowable by definition, then your viewpoint is no longer cogent. If you think it is possible to know the mind of god, and yet are unsure if it exists, then you… are a gnostic.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

NB: as I have written elsewhere and often, I am not overly concerned about the metamorphosis of word meanings, and nor am I all that interested in arguments that insist on trapping opponents in esoteric or academic definitions of words. However, the above is not an attempt to reclaim an older definition of agnostic as standard, but to illustrate that: the philosophical position advocated by many who call themselves agnostics, isn’t really much of a position at all, and not because it is wrong, but because it is thin.

On Losing It

November 9, 2011

Forgetting how to play.

Through work, I am afforded the privilege of playing more golf than my pay grade would normally warrant. As a result, over this (rapidly ending) season, my game improved from mostly terrible and occasionally ok, to mostly ok and occasionally good. My ball flight improved from a weak low shot to a boring draw, and I added a reliable check and roll chip to my short game arsenal.

Inevitably, my scores went down, but most importantly, my range of scores narrowed – with the occasional very good result happening with much greater frequency than the exceptionally bad. Best result was a +3 for nine holes (7 pars). I had more birdies this year than in the previous seven years combined.

One evening in mid August everything changed. I was playing with two delightfully interesting strangers (rare treat) and while my start to the round was terrific – two greens in regulation and two pars – my game started to fall terribly apart after that. I wasn’t so worried or annoyed that I wished never to play again, but the next day I invested in a trip to the range to see what was up.

It was worse. Much worse. I am struggling against the inevitable cliche of describing the experience as “never having played before,” but I am finding it inescapable. It simply was like that. I struggled through 80 balls, unable to make anything even approximating a shot. Violent and low slices with my Sand Wedge ran rudely down the range, and perpendicular to the flights of better balls.

I left wondering if it was all over. I was far from convinced of such a gloom, but I was well familiar with the almost paranormal stories about (shudder) yips. For the uninitiated, while yips in golf is most routinely a putting woe, it is more generally applied to all sporting actions involving motor skills that mysteriously cease functioning. How to fix them and why they happen is not fully understood, but they happen at all levels, with many examples of careers stalling, and sometimes, ending.

The shortstop who forgot how to throw to first base. That tennis guy who lost serve. All those free throw guys. Dartitis. Squirly and elusive patchwork might be necessary to cure my condition, and without guarantee. My mind drifted to thoughts of golf chemo. Imagine finding yourself, say, unable to turn a tap, or tie your shoes, and yet all the while able to perform myriad analgous tasks.

I was fine by the next day, and without any special effort. I blocked the notion from my mind and played. Still, every once in a while my upper body stops turning mid swing, the face of my club wide-open, I hit one of those low slicing freaks, and I suddenly find myself thinking of an otherwise charming August evening.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

Pretty Good Looking (for a machine)

July 4, 2011

I said it once before but it bears repeating now.

Whenever a friend or acquaintance pulled me to one side and offered a rare glance at their latest purchase (most always some up to the minute technology or vintage instrument) my response was typically polite interest. A head nod, a somewhat knowledgeable inquiry, an acknowledging smile that indicated that I too appreciated the coupling of functionality and form.

I have owned great guitars, average guitars, microphones, digital four tracks, about a half dozen PCs, laptops, cell phones, amplifiers, and a host of other technological staples. I genuinely appreciated the results of the better examples, and was frustrated by and subsequently derided the less than adequate cheapies by which I muddled. But there is an adore felt by some device owners that strikes me as roughly akin to that experienced by the cat and dog keeping sect. A love not as powerful as that felt for a close relative or friend, but definitely more acute than the feelings for strangers. Yes you do love your new Les Paul more than Jack the Hobo…

Eye twinkling at the thought or mention or unveiling of new toys invariably failed to manifest in me. Again, I did appreciate them, but I did not adore them. This all changed when the good people of Fed Ex delivered to my door (and in excellent time) my Ipod Touch (as I wrote here). The perfect marriage of intuition and grace and function and reliability and beauty resulted in polyamorous wonder on my part. And now, with a highly anticipated delivery of a new iMac, I can barely muster the resources necessary to maintain my concentration.

I have used Macs in the past, and while I was reasonably impressed with them, and thought the BETA-VHS and MAC-PC analogy apposite and convincing, the negatives (price, availability of software, and the obnoxious manner Mac people gloated about their machines) added up to tried and true (if not trusty) PC purchasing. Simply put: what is a computer for if not to run software? And secondly: am I getting twice the computer for twice the price? The answer to the second I thought an echoing no.

World’s greatest living person, Stephen Fry, was an early adopter of Macintosh computers, and a current aficionado of Ipads and Iphones and all the other branches of the  great Apple tree. Stephen points out that the word environment, when referring to what fills your vision when interacting with your computer and the relative ease or difficulty one can complete tasks, is a particularly appropriate word. Much like how we are not indifferent to what constitutes the façade of our cities, and bemoan mere functionality when beauty is neglected, so should we with a device that we stare at and interact with for great lengths.

What has changed? Why now? Macs were lovely, but now they are simply gorgeous. Yes, one is likely paying at least a 50% premium compared to an equivalently powerful windows system, the mythical reliability of Macs is almost certainly just that, and the propriety nature of the technology bounds you to Apple in a way that the modular PC does not, but you do get to take the Harvest Queen to the prom, and you are the quarterback.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

One Concession

March 28, 2011

The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. – John Gray

One way debates between the religious and atheists run aground is over the question of faith. A standard argument might go something like this:

Atheist: Having faith is a form of intellectual dishonesty. To claim you believe in something without evidence is to remove yourself from the discussion before it even begins.

Religious: Scientists have faith that the universe is intelligible. That the laws of physics held true since the beginning of time. That there is a connection between what our senses tell us and objective reality. All of that requires a leap of faith.

I was for a very long time satisfied with what amounted to a syntactical argument, i.e. to call religious assumptions about the nature of god faith in the same breath as scientific assumptions about an intelligible universe faith, is to reduce the word faith to no definition. That is, faith becomes a useless word.

But dude’s quote above has me re-evaluating my once staunchly held belief in the absence of faith in science. No Darwinian would dream of arguing that the human brain arrived at its current form due to an evolutionary process that selected for ‘maximum truth acquisition.‘ No, the Darwinian would insist that the human brain is the way it is because it defeated other types of brains in an evolutionary race, and the qualities that evolution selected for would be linked to truth accuracy only coincidentally at best.

Furthermore, whatever the universe is made of, it is not made of sights, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, and tastes. Those means (our senses) with which we interact with the universe exist only at the level of the brain, and any other type of information that might transmit to us requires a wholly different type of brain to receive. Therefore, the most generous we can possibly be about our knowledge of what can only be called objective reality, is that it is flawed due to fidelity of transmission. At worst, the universe is barely at all like we think it is, that our senses while giving us a practical means with which to interact, are grossly inaccurate.

So, there you have it, a leap of faith is required to believe that the universe is understandable by our prehistorically selected brain, and that even if our biological equipment is uniquely suited to exploring objective reality, it is an assumption to believe that the universe is understandable – that it is cogent, consistent, and always has and will be.

I’ll make that leap.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com


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