October 5th, 2011


On Directions in Atheism

The growth of atheism is as important to me as the growth of socialism. We want a community, we want it to have the right content, we want it to grow, and we want it to win. On atheism, I think it's important that it grow in the right way. We should not be so keen to expand that we discredit existing ideas just because they happened in the context of religion. We should be a giant katamari ball rolling through existing cultures, picking up ideas everywhere we go, evaluating them, tweaking them if necessary, and incorporating them into our movement and our new culture. We should then push that culture boldly.

We reject the multiculturalists who want a diversity of deeply-different cultures, those who would leave in place ideas that enslave or waste so many human beings. But our culture is also not to be very specific; for the things that really matter to us we may be less diverse, but when it comes to what holidays we have, what festivals we throw, what food we eat, what music we listen to, and so on, we will be intentionally eclectic and delight in cultural appropriation.

Our approach to struggle in the world of ideas must not be tired or stodgy; while we may be committed to being fair and careful in our arguments, we need a vitality that will carry us forward. In our claims (there are no gods! abrahamic morality isn't that great! neither mother theresa nor yeshua bar yosef were admirable people!) we should speak loudly and with conviction, and follow it up with what we do believe and love about humanity.

  • Current Music
    Bad Religion - All There Is

Emergency Dissonance

I wonder how often cognitive dissonance leads people to strange societal positions. Let's imagine someone who has strong family ties but who is a bit off, and like most families, instead of having open acknowledgement and occasional joking around that the person's off (as I think my family does), they just don't talk about it. Let's then imagine this person, in a failure of socialisation, empathy, and self-control, rapes someone, or perhaps attacks them. I imagine that an otherwise-reasonable family might invisibly find their ideas about what is just shift so they can keep seeing the family member as a good person. Blame-the-victim intuitions might just come about not through any reason that comes from consideration of ideas, just family loyalty, and anyone who disagreed with such a consensus might be stifled because in many families certain perspectives are just-not-talked-about.

I wonder how many people would be principled enough not to think this way.

For what it's worth, I think I'm less inclined towards this pattern for three reasons:

  • My family is quarrelsome and when we find flaws in each other, we poke at them. This isn't really malicious; it's based around the idea that whatever problems there are, one has to try to laugh at them because other approaches generally don't work well. Life's a mess, people are imperfect, what'cha gonna do?
  • I've combined my father's intuitions for being contrarian with the identity as a philosopher, whereby I understand and accept that I will take strong positions on things that will possibly make people angry. Sometimes this is because most people don't try to have proper positions and so their fluffy ideas don't need to actually work, and sometimes it's because people are generally too cowardly to talk about positions even if they have them, both leading to anyone who thinks as treading on dangerous social ground. Again, undersood and accepted.
  • I was exposed to Mohist thought when I was younger and thought (and still think) that there's a lot to be said for it. Mozi argued that our preferential treatment and care for those closest to us endangers society, and pushed for us to flatten the pyramids of care to better create social justice. I apply my Mohist leanings most strongly in formal systems.
I do think it'd be otherwise natural to prefer to take the side of a family member in disputes, even if doing so involves tortured logic. Conquering this natural urge is a positive-but-difficult task.