Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

  • Music:

Inverted suns

Migraines (likely only interesting to others who suffer migraines and even then maybe not):

Visited neurologist today (slightly frustrating that it took about a month and a half to get the appointment, but meh) regarding migraines. Felt slightly odd in that I haven't had one for awhile (they tend to cluster), also because this is the same doctor I saw some years ago that gave me a medication (Tryptophan I think) that both utterly failed and made the migraine much worse - instead of continuing to work with him to find something better I was discouraged/unhappy enough to not contact him back. Still, he remembered me (probably because not too many people have their own MRI images on a giant laptop). Looks like I'm going to be going onto a much higher dose of Verapamil (and trying "Excedrin Migraine"), at least once the migraines start to come back. There's also the happy possibility that they're gone for good, but I'd be foolish to count on that ^_^

I have recently been wondering how I might start to keep some Hard Cider around my apartment - the Liquor store doesn't carry it (or beer), but unlike Ohio, I don't think it's available in supermarkets. Information would be welcome from people who know how to arrange this!

I recently was thinking about the various Science Fiction shows I've watched over the years, and, having rewarched a little bit of Star Trek:TNG, I realise in retrospect that I am pretty happy at the entire arc of the show. It ended surprisingly well in a nice tie to the opening episode, and only grew mildly stale near the end of the series. It's kind of impressive given how often TV shows either bollocks up the ending (surprise! You're cancelled! Write a last episode!) or fall apart badly enough that they stop being worth watching (a good example being 「Sliders」).

Little bits of news:

  • Good to see that the mess over our state governor having funded some highly questionable information gathering has not gone away.
  • More healthcare changes are online - 6 month sunrise clauses
  • Sarah Palin doesn't really want to get off the stage. Just like Tea Party candidates, I am unsure if it's great that there are candidates who are so radical they could not possibly be elected, or if it's worrying that the cultural divide between the two Americas is great enough that they actually could be elected, and once-sane-seeming (if people I'm not inclined to like) politicians like Newt seem to be having an ugly divorce from reality. I have a feeling that the backwaters of our culture are increasingly isolated from the modern world - it's hard to say what that means in the longer-term or what can be done about it (apart from educational reforms that would be fought tooth and nail).

Richard Dawkins recently gave a speech as a response to Pope Ratzinger's attacks on secularism. I generally respect Dawkins, in tone and content - I don't approach religion or religious philosophy in quite the same way, but I generally think he's not prone to going over the top, and with regards to the truth claims of religion (as opposed to the philosophical claims), I think the hard-nosed (but careful) academic approach is better than that advocated by other secular figures.

This Dawkins speech has things to dislike.

  • It's not out-of-line exactly to tread into the grounds of discussing Ratzinger's claims about atheists and Fascism, as the topic was (stupidly, I believe) opened by Ratzinger, and setting the record straight(ish) is thus kosher (more on that below).
  • Dawkins doesn't go into the longer history of Church-Nazi relations, which would've been a good opportunity to discuss "who can claim central identity for a movement" and similar issues.
  • Dawkins doesn't really make the case for why Original Sin is such a vile concept, and the complaint "they teach this to small children" is a bit odd in that light. I agree that it's an odd concept to give to children, one which I would prefer not be taught, but I don't think it amounts to being vile. I'm not certain on this though - I might consider it to be bad parenting to, say, blame a child whose conception was a mistake for their existence, and that this by analogy is similar to original sin (in being inherited and can't help it). Likewise, is the inevitability of sin paired with the availability of salvation through faith something odd-but-mitigated? I don't like it - it feels like a memetic trick to me, but taken together are they unhealthy? I am not sure. I am more comfortable with Islamic or Judaist theology on this matter (in terms of being psychologically healthy, not in terms of truth claims).
  • Joseph Ratzinger as an enemy of humanity? No, I don't think so. Ratzinger is a conservative catholic, and several of his ideals are things we should struggle against because they're dated and harmful (some of which Dawkins mentions). His position as head of the Roman Catholic Church makes him the head of an organisation that has historially and recently done both large numbers of worthy things and large numbers of harmful things. His personal involvement in some of the harmful things (whether confirmed, as in opposing condoms, or not, as in failing to best protect church members from problem priests, or the muddy ground in-between, as in failing to enact structural and dogmatic changes that would lessen the problems, such as permitting/suggesting/requiring priests to marry rather than engaging an unrealistic lifestyle that twists them) is problematic. Yet, he is also someone whom we can assume (I believe) generally wishes humanity well, and that what failings there are are neither malicious nor amount to him being "an enemy of humanity". I don't believe Ratzinger approves of rape of children (quite the contrary), and Dawkins' claim that Ratzinger "has allowed" this is only true in the sense that unfortunate philosophical commitments (no marriage for priests), concern for the structure of the church (to a degree I think was problematic but not damning), and a failure to adequately address a major concern can be called guilt. People should be outraged, but taking that outrage too far would be a mistake. The church is as human as its members.
  • Ratzinger as an enemy of gay people - This is kind-of true, or at least he considers gay acts to be unacceptable and not worthy of societal approval. In this I believe we should stand against Ratzinger (Noting however that this is an area where the official Roman Catholic Church may never change - we will either have to remove their hands from politics on this matter or hope that they go against something which (as I read it) has explicit (if slightly nuanced) scriptural support.
  • Ratzinger as an enemy of women by barring them from the priesthood - I'm not sure this is noteworthy - Perhaps it's worth considering it as part of the general message the church may send by doing so though? I need to think more about this matter. The cheap shot about penises that followed this is uncalled for.
  • Ratzinger as an enemy of truth regarding condoms and AIDS - concur with Dawkins on this - I can understand why the church does this, as it is still trying to fight against sex outside of marriage and sees condoms as a battleground. I think that it is just as wrong in that fight - approval of sex outside of marriage is, in my opinion, the only sensible position. It is daft to enter what might be a permanent stage of a relationship without ensuring compatibility on that front, abstainence is psychologically unhealthy, and sex is not an enemy. We likely will always ascribe social meaning to it, but it should not be absent from the life of a healthy adult (so long as people are capable) in most cases - the costs to happiness and sanity are too high, the reasoning for denial is spurious.
  • Ratzinger as an enemy of the poor through positions on family planning - I agree, although I don't see malice in Ratzinger's position - it is just an unfortunate effect of the broader Roman Catholic positions. We should hope to pressure Ratzinger to adapt doctrine to better serve humanity on these matters.
  • Ratzinger as an enemy of science regarding stem cell research - This is not exactly true - it is true in the particular, but the Roman Catholic Church is, at least in modern times, relatively and broadly friendly to the sciences.
  • Ratzinger as an enemy of the Queen's church - Sure, but why does Dawkins care about that? Faiths and movements and political parties all squabble for members, and we expect that. Does Dawkins really want to defend some kind of validity for the Anglican church? Why?
  • Ratzinger as an enemy of Education - Basically a question on epistemology - I think Dawkins skims over a lot of complex matters here to take a cheap stance - I believe he's capable of (and has) discussed the foundations of science as an enterprise elsewhere - the statements in this part of his talk are propogandic rather than deep, and not very worthwhile. For example, we make certain assumptions in philosophy before we can do science; these are pragmatic and have been honed as scientific culture has adapted over the years. The only way to defend them is to look at their track record - they're not a priori superiour to non-naturalistic foundations, they're pragmatically so. The defense of methodological naturalism-combined-with-scientific-traditions-and-then-add-on-some-life-philosophy-for-nonsciency-things is better done as such rather than by comparing a vague notion of science with the naturalism-plus-tradition-and-faith that comprises the mental life of scientifically leaning Roman Catholics (the borders are not drawn in the same place, so it's necessary to bring in more conceptual baggage than staying strictly on-topic would permit in order to be fair, which is kind of the point).
Do speeches have to oversimplify? Is it possible to rally people around a cause without dehumanising those with other positions who stand in the way, distort their perspectives, use grandiose terms like "enemy of humanity"? Is a level-headed accessment of what other people think anathema to building a movement? At the very least, it is more difficult to be accurate/fair and convincing at the same time. It takes a caliber of self-development that fails to reach the lowest common denominator of people swayed by words telling them what we all want in the basest parts of our blood - to be the in group eradicating the out group. If we fail to appeal to that, we lose people, but if we do appeal to it we slip further from our potential. This is not a paradox, but it is an ugly tension implicit in politics and popular philosophy like this.

It's weird watching the crowd - that makes me more uncomfortable than Dawkins (although I generally am known to be pretty hard on crowds)

To cut away from that a bit, is there anything to the Pope's claim that to step off the ground of Roman Catholicism puts one at risk of recreating horrors? I don't think Dawkins is entirely right to reject it, but Ratzinger's claim is too shallow. The issues: moral orders, individual exploration.

Accepted: Were the whole world to accept modern Roman Catholic values, and were those values not to repress people in ways harmful to their ability to live them, and were those values to be complete (in the sense that they consistently guide/define moral behaviour in all situations) and coherent (in that they do not have the property where two people oppose each other in moral situations and both are correct), the world would be morally simple, non-confusing, and probably not too terrible by most metrics.

Correlary: Any value system with certain properties would do the same job. Even if being entirely complete or entirely coherent are impossible standards, the degree to which they are either contributes to the last three characteristics.

It is not because the values are Roman Catholic that they can provide guidance - any value system, any philosophy could. Ratzinger is not being profound when he suggests Catholicism as the gold standard, at least no more profound than any philosopher or theologan would be were they to claim the same. "If we do it my way, things will be simpler and the confusion will be gone". In that sense, Ratzinger's concerns about pluralism are valid - we do live in a morally confusing world, where instead of following a small school of painters on our moral judgements, we have a plethora of options. Radical individualism is one option opened up as a logical conclusion of certain strands of liberalism - "I will do what I want and I have no concerns for society's good". Likewise, Roman Catholicism must compete with other faiths, and value systems do not like to compete (particularly as their job is to raise people out of individualism - philosophies that are excessively libertene destroy society, yet because they fail to restrain our faults, they can be the easiest position for people to adopt).

Pluralism is not unlimited - society has not degraded entirely - we seem to be floating around a vague consensus on norms - Ratzinger would have the faithful claim credit for these and call us seculars "freeloaders". I disagree - I think it is the degree to which our society has civilised itself through education, through our communities, through our laws and political and cultural discourse, degraded though it may seem, that sustains us at our level. We are not more deeply plural than we are because we reject behaviour that is excessively individualist or excessively different. "Sticks and stones" is a motto that helps hold us in, like many others do, and those on the other side of it are greatly frowned upon in the west. This is not faith. It is rooted in history and philosophy, and in some cases parts of our common value heritage come from religion - this should not bother us - the value philosophy in religion is philosophy. The music in religion is music. Religion does not taint it, it flavours it, and yet the same judgements we make on each other in these are judgements we made before religion was created, inherent in our potential, emergent from groups of people staring at each other from the neolithic to modern times. We recognise this, neither seek a reality that is absolutely libertene nor to close entirely the dialogue on values. Instead of closed gates of Ijtihad and a reliance on taqlid, we recognise that some level of pluralism will be part of life in the very long run, that inculturation is not something we can leave to chance, and that a culture of people who seek self-improvement on the individual and group level are more healthy than a society of imitators and followers. The path to production of this reality may be long and highly curved (an immediate and full populism would be naïve self-destruction, and at the very least radically improved education, empathy, and understanding of human nature would be needed in most people as a seed), but the end goal (for those of us who are secular socialists) should be to build and enact Eudaimonia in people and society (note: I am not suggesting a virtue foundation that is Ancient Greek in character).

Our goal still, like the Roman Catholics and any other value system, to have a notion of workable pluralism and provide enough coherence and completeness to make a workable and good system. Just as they speak of how things would be simpler if everyone agreed with them, so we would say the same words (although hopefully in saying this, we can be more honest - there is mist around our feet, just as there is around everyone's).

Tags: philosophy

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