Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

  • Music:

Alain's Atheism

A quick note on another fantastic TEDTalk, this by Alain de Botton. I'd say I agree with it about 70%, and it contains a number of points I've pressed on my blog here several times here. Alain de Botton talks of the good stuff in religion and how, in building our post-religious world, we should begin to populate our culture and world-outlooks. He speaks highly of cultural appropriation (as do I; I have zero tolerance for the idea that cultural appropriation is bad), suggesting that we have a common human heritage that helps us thread meaning into our lives, and that we can and should draw from broad backgrounds in creating our personal life-meanings.

The missing element is that religion is just one part of our common human heritage. Philosophy and nonreligious cultural content are just as ready for us to examine, evaluate, and selectively incorporate into our practices and identity.

I do think that Alain is painting a false dichotomy between the secular and the religious here, at least on the secular side. Although I personally have little attraction to ritual, I do want the other cultural and social content that traditionally comes with religion; the moral lectures (and discussion), the community, and the like. I don't think what he's talking about is something that Dawkins would object to (and likely other prominent seculars are at least not hostile to his ideas, even if they might not give them the attention they are due).

As a final point, he mentions a type of harmonious disagreement, suggesting that seculars might do well to entirely overlook and ignore mention of prayer and have a permanent and calm ceasefire with religion. Although I would not suggest entirely bumpy confrontation, I don't think that style of ceasefure is desirable either when the religious communities continue to hold faith as such a strong ideal and have the unspoken idea that "you gotta believe or you're a bad person". The value of faith and the valuation of people who don't have it will remain a point of contention, and I think neither constant bruising nor letting religious folk paint that picture without our painting a competing picture is sensible for us atheists. As such, while I don't intend to be too pushy about it in person, and I imagine I will always have some religious people in my life, I do intend to keep thinking of (and occasionally speaking of) religion as being a delusion, just as I expect the faithful to keep painting faith as a moral imperative and a requirement to be good. These are simply part of what it means to either have philosophical naturalism or faith+salvation as part of a worldview, and to pretend there is no inherent conflict between the two is to neglect the heart of each, for the sake of a false peace.

Of course, between any two (or more) people, neither will entirely respect the other. There are always some things we don't entirely like or are a bit uncomfortable about with friends; avoided topics, points of tension, differences between worldview, disputes over good life paths and morality.. And a mature adult who has enough life experiences will not even be entirely comfortable with everything they've done over their life; people change, their morals change, they have moments of temptation, of stupidity, and sometimes they even miss out on great things because of excessive idealism (didn't quit that job for a new one because you felt loyalty to a company that fired you two months later to help the bottom line? Oops! Didn't walk away from something shitty because you wern't strong enough, and missed out on chances for something else? Oops!). It's ok to not like each and every bit of your friends. It's almost a sign of intellectual laziness not to.

In any case, interesting talk.

On another topic, I do have another few topics coming up to blog about that will probably effectively be stirring a hornet's nest. I have come to admire Rushdie's statement on this: "A poet's work... to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, take sides, start arguments, shake the world and stop it from going to sleep". That said, it's kind of tiring to do that too often, particularly because only a few of my (mostly less frequent at this point) readers are people who I could unqualifiably call friends; people who I frequently hung out with and with whim I shared enough conversations that I feel they could really get the flavour of my reasoning and mental landscape. I always worry about the things unsaid; I am more apt to criticise or offer refinement to things we have in common than to simply state the common conclusion; the latter goes unspoken (and might be missed), particularly by those who don't know my history. Oh well. Once I get my emotional energy back up, I'll be ready to start another fire and see where it goes.

I get most nervous/feel most worn down when I'm confronting people or ideas that are close to parts of my identity; confronting radical feminism, excessively idealistic (from my perspective) forms of liberalism, telling someone I like and respect that I think they're off... posts like this are easy because I don't expect a lot of blowback, few people will likely feel threatened, and the nuance I'm pushing is one I'm sure about. The confrontations I mention earlier are more nervous for me because I am less sure I'm right, there's a reason people are pushed towards positions I find excessive or counterproductive, and the blowback will be much stronger and might leave me looking a bit like a monster if people don't really understand the totality of what I'm saying (or maybe if they do). I also have a lot of metaphilosophy attached to how I see things; the idea that you only get to pull so hard on the public, no matter how just your cause, before you get obnoxious. It is necessary to make these arguments (or at least healthy), but that doesn't make it fun. For example, as much as I really really dislike the Geek Feminism Wiki (and rail about it fairly often), there are people I respect involved with or running the thing, and while I think their methods are wrong, their cause is mostly right. I'm hardened enough to mostly ignore the cannons full of the word "privilege" they'll fire at me, and it won't make me see myself as any less committed to gender-role abolitionism and correcting injustice, but I at least would prefer that others who might listen to my ideas don't dismiss me out of hand (or find me excessively repugnant) for my disputes with the radical (feminists/marxists/transhumanists/etc). I want to be in good standing. Kind of. At least, in as good standing as any often-contrarian philosopher can be.

Part of the problem is that I also don't want to be in good standing because if I really felt comfortable with people on that front, I'd be disinclined to stir up trouble and make the arguments that I think need to be made. Feeling entirely accepted might be kind of constraining. But I don't want to be alone either.

Perhaps I'm aiming to be a good-hearted deep-thinking intellectual troublemaker; a moderate radical and a radical moderate. Or at least, that's how I see myself. I don't get to choose how others see me, even if I have hopes.


  • Still alive

    Been feeling a bit nostalgic. Not about to return to LiveJournal - their new ownership is unfortunate, but I wanted to briefly note what's been up…

  • Unplugging LJ

    It's about time I pulled the plug on the LJ version of my blog: 1) I'm much more active on G+ than I am with general blogging. I post many times a…

  • Mutual Trust

    I don't know which should be considered more remarkable: That a cat should trust a member of a far larger and stronger species that it can't…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded