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Monthly Archives: March 2011

If You’ve Pretensions to Calvinism, Protesting Human Behavior is Pretty Well Meaningless

In a few hours Kevin Smith will, for whatever reason, be presenting his “fuck Hollywood” premiere tour for the film Red State right here in my hometown. I’m not going simply because I don’t really have $67 to drop on a ticket for an event that doesn’t include a blowjob with the cost of admission. But neither the film itself, or my lack of oral sex is the point of this post. I will, at no point but either the name or the initials of a certain religious group in this post, as I refuse to be a party to providing them with any more free publicity than they’re already getting simply because I’m talking about the film. However, if you’re at all familiar with Red State, you know which protest-happy group of zealots I’m talking about.

See, they’re supposed to be in town tonight too, waving about their placards that tell us all about how their god hates certain groups of people. Maybe it’s because I’m an atheist, maybe it’s because I’ve studied philosophy of religion, or maybe it’s because I’m simply not batshit insane enough, but I have to wonder if they actually believe the shit they sell. I don’t mean the hating homosexuals part; fuck knows the human race has shown time and time again how xenophobic, petty, and vicious we can really be. So I don’t have a hard time believing that they hate gay folks.

The bit that gets me is that they claim to believe that their god hates gay folks, and that America is somehow being punished for not burning all “teh homos” (and if one of the man in charge’s disillusioned sons is to be believed anyone who’s not white as well). I find this hard to believe, because this particular group of numbskulls embrace a worldview that is inherently Calvinist. I realize I’m simplifying things here, but one of the central tenets of Calvinism is the idea of predestination; as most Calvinists would have it we’re already marked for salvation or damnation from the get-go, nothing we do along the way fucking well matters to whether we’re fed grapes in heaven or sodomized with burning maggots in hell.

The problem with doing this is that it renders most of the theological implications of free will meaningless (which causes a lot of other problems I won’t be going into for reasons of space and relevance to the topic at hand). Sure, I can choose to be good or bad, but those choices don’t fucking well matter much, do they? If I’m damned from day one, then why would it matter if I spend my days fucking another dude up the ass while aborting fetuses and denying the Holy Spirit? I’m going to hell anyway, right? For that matter the same applies if I’m earmarked for salvation. If I’ve already got a get out of jail free card, then why in the world when I want to go to all the work of being a good person? Not only has this god rendered free will largely meaningless, but unless I want to be Kierkegaard’s knight of faith he’s taken away any fucking reason I should do what he says.

Maybe this god is just a particularly petty one, eh? Because I can’t think of any other reason why a god who’s rendered my life meaningless would then be hatin’ on me.

Like I said, this is an oversimplification. Personally, I’d like to be able to walk down to any protest that happens tonight (as the event in question is taking place only a few blocks from my current residence), and talk to a someone representing these folks and their beliefs. I would like to hear from them how their own beliefs avoid reducing that which they believe in into unintelligibly. I’d like that a lot, really. Sadly, these people’s track record suggests that if I do try it the only thing I can expect for my trouble is shouted rhetoric. Which I think is a shame, but you know what, I’m not going to give them a pretty picture for the television cameras and newspapers, so that they can go to sleep at night playing the martyr; I’m not going to give them the self-satisfaction of thinking they’ve castigated another “sinner.” I haven’t mentioned them by name, and I hope to never speak of them again. Because the worst thing we can do to these people isn’t debate them. It isn’t, no matter how abhorrent we find their views, staging counter protests. It’s letting them scream in an empty auditorium. Sadly, with the media and it’s “if it bleeds it leads” mentality, these zealots will likely never fade into obscurity, no matter how much we beg news outlets to ignore them. After all, we’ve made it pretty clear that as a society we want to stare right at that fucking trainwreck. So I’m sad to say that it will probably never happen.

It is on that sad note that I will end, dear readers. If anyone needs me I’ll be in the corner crying bitter tears for the state of humanity, and maintaining what is by now the thoroughly Kierkegaardian hope that tomorrow you will finally start making the world a better place than it is today.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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A Touch of Nostalgia

I’m not feeling in a terribly philosophical mood this evening, though I have been touched by nostalgia. Which means that tonight, dear readers, I am going to confine myself to a personal story.

More than a few years agone now, I was helping my mother with one of her various craft projects. She always had one project or another going, as my mother was a rather creative woman. In this case we were making snowmen. I believed they were going to be used to decorate something or other. There was nothing particularly complicated about our faux snowmen. At base they were simply rolls of toilet paper inserted into a sock. Various decorative gewgaws would then be added.

As one might imagine, this was not exactly the most physically or intellectually challenging task I’ve ever engaged in. Over the course of the conversation I first gave each of the snowmen names. I then assigned them a political structure. But I realized something was missing. Then I hit on it; the snow people were missing a complicated myth cycle centered around the idea of “The Great Melting.” So that’s exactly what I gave them.

I, of course, was rather fond of the idea, and suggested I call up some of the folks I know who paint and ask them if they might be interested in doing a children’s book with me. My mother advised against it on the grounds that a children’s book shouldn’t be about traumatizing children….

You was a sarcastic pain in the ass sometimes, mum, but not so much as I don’t miss you all over again every time I’m reminded you’re gone.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

A Philosopher and a Witcher… in Spaaaaaaaaace

Last week was a maggot-ridden pile of shit. I’m not going to go into particular details as to why. To try and  blow off some steam I’ve spent the past few days finally playing The Witcher. Yes, I tend to be well behind the times when it comes to these things. As a result of playing The Witcher I started thinking about Macross Frontier. I realize it’s a bit of a mental leap from Polish dark fantasy to Japanese roboplanes in space, right? Or maybe not. In this case the opening notes of the song to the opening cinematic, and notes which pop up in a few other places, strongly reminded me of the opening notes to the song “Aimo” which is a recurring theme over the course of Macross Frontier.

I developed a love for outer space at a young age. I suspect that I’m not particularly alone in either this or my love for giant robots, eh? So while I don’t keep up with all the cutting edge journals and whatnot, I do try to keep an eye on what’s going on out there in the universe. So when I find out about things like extremeophile bacteria here on Earth that are looking like they can substitute arsenic for phosphorus in their DNA, or the idea that there are potentially exploitable hydrocarbons on Titan I get pretty excited.

Of course I’ve spent too much time reading philosophers, so I can’t just leave it at “Damn, we might one day be able to send our shit out to Titan, and solve our energy crisis for at least a few years.” No, I have to go and ask pesky questions about whether or not doing so is the right thing to do.  Of course when I do that I start to realize that when you get right down to it most classical theories of ethics are full of so much shit it isn’t funny.

Unfortunately I don’t have the space to do an indepth critique to show you why these theories are problematic. For that matter last time I did a fairly surface analysis it still took a few thousand words. So I’m going to jump right in, and tell you that the problem with most classic conceptions of ethics is that they take as part of their foundation the idea of the autonomous ethical actor, and autonomy in general. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the classic Western view has, in general, figured us as complete beings in and of ourselves; as such our ethical decisions also originate from within ourselves. Presuming, of course, that one is capable of being an ethical actor. According to Aristotle, to use one example, if you have a vag then you’re not capable of rationality, and therefore are not an ethical actor. Rationality has, in general, been the driving force behind how one reaches ethical decisions, so even when you’re not dealing with a philosopher who disqualifies you because you’re an innie instead of an outie your dog, or a rock aren’t ethical actors.

We of course live in a world which is filled not only with other people, but with dogs and rocks. Our decisions affect those people, dogs and rocks. Sure, we can try and plan our ethical actions so that the results of them take those people, dogs and rocks into account, but why shouldn’t we consider them as a factor in the thinking as well as the doing. More to the point, why shouldn’t we place just as much importance on them in our decision making as we do on “rational” humans. This is what intersubjectivity, which I’ve touched on before, is. It’s simply an acknowledgment that we are not alone in this world; we are not isolated actors, ethical or otherwise (of course the existentialist might well argue that all our actions are in a very real sense an ethical/normative action, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Of course this is where shit starts getting tricky, and we can wind up without real answers. I mean does this mean that we shouldn’t eat animals, make use of natural resources, or even move for fear that we might harm bacteria and/or insects and upset the balance of the intersubjective world. Well… no. I’m perfectly fine with eating animals, though I do happen to think that our methods of food production need some pretty serious overhaul (and no, I don’t think “organic” farming is in the same neighborhood as the most practical and ethical answer). I’m wearing clothes, living in a house, and using technology; so on some level I am obviously okay with the extraction and use of resources, but again I think we need to do some serious thinking about these things and our engagement with them. As much as some people hate to hear it this is another one of those times where it’s as important to have the questions as it is to arrive at an indisputable answers, because it’s the process of questioning that helps make us better people.

Which, in a roundabout way, leads me back to The Witcher. One of the things I like about it is that it broke from the tradition of having a “morality” system that more or less has “hug puppies for Jesus” and “kill puppies for Satan” as its two poles, and with those events which influence that morality rating not only standing out as blatantly obvious, but as playing out as largely isolated factors. Sure, they might affect your reputation, or dialog options in later parts of the game, but how much impact did they really have. Sure, you killed the monster, or helped the monster kill the villagers, but how did that action then ripple out to affect others? While The Witcher doesn’t impliment this perfectly, and doesn’t do it for all actions; for example, I accidentally killed a guy who was running in panic trying to escape an area I was fighting in – I didn’t even think about it, and had already chopped the shit out of him before I realized he wasn’t one of the bad guys. While that is a fairly major oversight, what is in effect, with the scenes that demonstrate how your choices have had an effect not only on the direct story of Geralt of Rivia, but on other persons and things, is, as I said, a step up from the old way of doing things.

In the end it doesn’t matter if there’s life out in space, though it’d be cool if there was, right? It doesn’t matter if there’s life out there, because we are not alone. There’s life right here on Earth. So let’s upgrade that to intelligent life, and quit behaving as if we’re all somehow magically isolated, ethically and otherwise, from the world around us.

 

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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