Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Road Ahead (Part Two)

Further to my last piece on the intersection of religion and morality, I want to talk about the intersection of religion and intelligence. A lot of New Atheists are pretty derisive when it comes to the beliefs of the religious - a fair bit of mocking goes on, rightly pointing out the ridiculousness of some of the beliefs, but then extending this by laughing at the believers as though they were stupid, ignorant children.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Road Ahead (Part One)

New Atheism, as a movement, spends a not-insignificant amount of time pointing out the evils done in the name of religion. We get criticised a lot for being constantly negative, for opposing certain religious practices with such fervour - as though we have no higher goal than to see religion consigned to the pages of history. Certainly, there are practices that we really do want to see the end of; things that have no place in modern society. And the sheer number of ways religion fosters intolerant, violent acts makes it pretty clear that religion is, as some have said, the root of all evil, right? Wrong.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What capitalism hath wrought

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.
- Charles F. Kettering, inventor and engineer (1876-1958)

Whenever someone dares to challenge the capitalist ideology that so many people hold dear, people often point out the good that has been done under capitalism’s watch. The underlying assumption is that people are essentially lazy bums who don’t want to do anything, and that the only reason we have made any advancements is because we’re bribing them with money. They point to all our modern technologies and say “This! This is what capitalism has given you - so be grateful, dammit!”

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Free Market Gambit

Imagine a game where every time your team kicked a goal, it was worth one point. But every time the opposite team kicked a goal, it was worth ten points. Then imagine that if you commit any sort of foul or breach of the rules, you’re instantly ejected from the game - but if the other side does, they just lose possession of the ball, no matter how many times or how egregiously they foul you. Then imagine that every ten minutes, the other team gets to flip a coin, and if it comes up heads they get to take all of your points, and if it comes up tails they just double their own score.

You don’t need to imagine such a game. This is the world that you live in every day. Sure, it wouldn’t be impossible for you to win at that game. If you were really, fantastically talented and they were disastrously incompetent, you might be able to compete on a serious level. But can you really make the claim that the game is in any sense fair? Can you really blame someone who tries to fix that system? That wants to level that playing field?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Direct Democracy in Action

I’d been following Occupy Melbourne closely online, along with its counterparts around the world, but until very recently I hadn’t been able to attend because of work. I’ve also read a few interesting pieces since my last post, so take it as read that my viewpoint is a little more nuanced now.

Firstly, this piece asserts that Occupy Wall Street isn’t really a traditional protest, it’s like a beta-test of a new way of life - which, as part of its functionality, incorporates activism for political change. The way they run things, with their consensus-based decision-making process and their peaceful resistance, is not just an incidental way of running their protest - it is what they’re doing, with the protests being incidental to that. The process is the point, to borrow their phrase. This is an interesting point, and footage I’ve seen from OWS certainly backs this up.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Where to now for Occupy Melbourne?

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win” - Gandhi

On September 17, about 1000 New Yorkers converged on Wall Street to protest the outrageous crimes perpetrated by financiers and their manifold consequences. NYPD responded brutally, macing unarmed and peaceful protesters, violently arresting hundreds, and - much to their chagrin - lending a lot of legitimacy to the cause. Since then it has spread like wildfire; other major cities in the US, across Europe, and now to Australia.

For the past week protesters have been camped at City Square in Melbourne, but the other day Lord Mayor Robert Doyle decided that these people had no right to continue protesting on public land, and evicted them. Yesterday morning, when the deadline came, the protesters exercised their right to protest peacefully, and stayed - so Doyle sent in the Riot Squad.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Truth About Evolution

It might not be quite the same in other places, but in Australia - anecdotally - it seems like the level of scientific literacy is high enough that the vast majority of young people say they believe in evolution. The problem is, many of them profess belief, and maybe have a vague idea of how it works - but don’t actually understand it well enough to apply it properly in arguments.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tangoing with the One-Armed Bandits: UPDATED

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has proposed several measures to help problem gamblers as a condition of his support for the Labor government. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has supported him in this respect, and there are a number of parties that have half-heartedly signalled approval or disapproval as well - but it’s important to note that as yet, no legislation has been put forward, so it’s impossible to say exactly what measures will be included in the bill.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plausible Deniablity

If you’re ever in a discussion about one of the big questions of life (everything from the origin of the universe to the nature of morality) eventually you will come across this phrase: “But you can’t prove there’s no God.” This is usually in response to something of the flavour “There is no evidence for a creator-god”” and, technically, is true - I can’t prove there is no God. I can debunk purported evidence, but I can’t prove the nonexistence of God any more than I can prove the nonexistence of fairies. That line of thinking, however, misses the point.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Paradigm Shift

Imagine this, if you will.

You fly into a city on the other side of the country. At home you drive a fairly standard late-model sedan, and when you arrive at the airport, you walk over to the rental lot and the car you requested is waiting - the same make and model as your own car. You walk up to it, and as you approach the door, the car gets the signal telling it to unlock the door.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Census 2011

Next Tuesday, the 9th of August, Australians will take a census. As you may have noticed, given the advertising the Atheist Foundation of Australia has put up around the nation, this year there is a campaign to ensure the question about religion is answered accurately.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Free Will

Over the past century or so, we’ve seen some pretty revolutionary changes in the world of physics. Newtonian mechanics held the crown as the best explanation for a long time, but in fairly rapid succession, relativity and quantum mechanics came along to oust it from the top job. It is now pretty much universally acknowledged that Newton was wrong about several important things, and that the modern theories do a much better job of explaining the physical universe.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The face of evil

“Evil is a little man afraid for his job” - Blue Thunder

There are dozens of quotes I could have used at the top of this piece, and I may include some of the better ones throughout. Because it seems we are so invested in the notion of a Hitler or a Manson as the face of evil that people need to come up with a lot of new and inventive ways to remind us that it simply isn’t the case.

Monday, July 11, 2011

At Last - The Carbon Tax

Well. It’s about time.

Yesterday Julia Gillard announced the details of the Carbon Tax her Multi-Party Climate Committee has been hashing out for the last few weeks. Throughout the negotiations, and since the announcement, Tony Abbott has been doing his darnedest to spread fear and misinformation as a means of sabotaging the government’s position, and has been doing a pretty good job of it – so this won’t be just my thoughts on the good and bad of the package but will try to clear up misconceptions about the facts of the issue as well. I will not, however, be discussing the science of climate change.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Empathy Heuristic

The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust

Most people see empathy as being primarily concerned with the moral sphere. We should try to consider other people’s feelings before we act, so we’re not inadvertently assholes to them. We should imagine how other people might react to what we say before we say it, so that we don’t offend anyone. It’s framed as a benefit to others - it’s not that you’re doing it for yourself, it’s that you’re making someone else’s life easier.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Whose side are you on?

Like a lawyer, the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than virtue. - Robert Wright

I have been in arguments on the internet (I can quit any time I like, I swear) in which I have spent a long time vehemently disagreeing with the other participants on the topic at hand, but then have agreed completely with them when the inevitable digression surfaces; when the argument on a carbon tax turns into an argument on nuclear power, for example.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Tribe Has Spoken

The propagandist's purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human. - Aldous Huxley

For most modern Westerners, our moral sphere - those we consider to have value, who we take into account when making moral choices - encompasses all human beings, regardless of their race, gender or social status. Many people include sentient non-humans, and to a certain degree some even go further and include non-sentient life forms into their moral sphere. But it wasn’t always the case.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Parable of the Good Point Guard

The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses - Francis Bacon

Just a short post today, but an important one.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Some housekeeping

Okay, it's been roughly a year since I started linking to the blog, so this is sort of an anniversary. I've got some actual posts coming up very shortly (got about four in the works at varying stages of completion) but today I just want to do some housekeeping.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

I don’t know what’s more pathetic: that the Coalition has been reduced to saying that the Greens are extremists who have Gillard by the short and curlies, or that it seems to be working.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Tax That Saves You Money

Being too busy to write lately, I figured I’d sort of missed the boat on this issue. But seeing the huge opposition to the Government’s proposed Carbon Tax at the Parliament House rally today, I realised just how effective the Liberal scare campaign has been. So, as always, it’s time to cut through the hysteria and rhetoric and get to the facts.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Helen Lovejoy Argument

“Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children!”

David Novak - No right to marriage for same-sex couples

David Novak is an example of an interesting, but sadly not uncommon, subtype of those opposed to gay marriage. He is a very religious man - a Professor of Religion, amongst other things - and he is entirely opposed to gay marriage, but puts forward his arguments on ostensibly unreligious grounds. As tends to be the case with such people, though, his otherwise logic-based arguments are built on the sands of prejudice.