Archive | March, 2012

A Liberal Should Know Better …

27 Mar

A Liberal Should Know Better:  Fearing ‘for the Future’ of Liberal Secularists like Sam Harris.

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Sam Harris “fears for the future of liberalism.”  I fear for the future secularism of liberals like Harris.  Alright, we get it. After 911, the world’s a dangerous place.  (It was dangerous before then, too, by the way).  But in his zealotry to go after Islam and fundamentalist religion, especially, non-Western varieties of that sort, Harris exposes himself to Western ethnocentrism and manipulations by the rightwing, culture war sort.

You needn’t be afraid for liberalism, Sam.  The Left will endure and even fight for what it needs to fight for in the world.  But it will not compromise on its ideals either, among those being its commitment to open-mindedness, belief in the basic at-heart goodness of people all over the world, egalitarianism, and a multicultural ethic.  Sam’s, and other secularists/atheists’, willingness to batten down the hatches culturally at home and go to war abroad with those who don’t believe the same sorts of things we do in the West is a page out of the reactionary, conservative playbook.  The Neo-conservatives and Republican Party play that card all the time.

A liberal should know better.  Harris, I’m afraid, is falling for the neocon-CON-job.

Watch out, Sam.  Fox News will be giving you a call soon to be a commentator for them if this keeps up.  Worse still, the Tea Party and its backers may take a liking to you. … Beware the Koch brothers!

Eurocentrism in Evolutionary Discourse? … Let’s Hope Not!

27 Mar

Eurocentric Undercurrents in a Discussion of Evolutionary Belief Versus National Wealth

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Jerry Coyne shares a fascinating graph from Calamities of Nature on his WEIT blog, “Belief in Evolution Versus National Wealth.” I know it’s being portrayed as a kind of call to arms of the peoples of the rest of the world to rise out of their religiously-minded ignorance and embrace a modern, scientific worldview and cultural mindset … and so it naturally demonstrates this as a haves and have-nots issue … But I find it, in some respects, surprisingly narrow-minded and Eurocentric.

So the rest of the world, besides Western Europe, is lower on this scale and lower on the totem pole of human worth for not embracing the Darwinian evolutionary worldview?  … I know that’s not what the stats are actually conveying here; but from the way in which this information is being described and presented, that’s what it looks like it’s saying and what follows in the implications arising from it. … That’s what it seems like this model is saying from such a presentation.

However:  You can believe in evolution and even Darwinian Natural Selection without being an enlightened, modern, well-to-do Westerner.

Non-Westerners, and Eastern Europeans, are not backwater yokels. They may or may not believe in evolution, and some of them many actually be religious.  But that does not make them second class human beings.  I’m fairly sure that’s not what’s really being said here through the post and via the original graphic; still that is what’s coming across from reading it.

These kinds of hierarchical scales of ‘betters’ and ‘lessers’ rub me the wrong way a lot of times for the way they can so easily be misconstrued and for fostering bad, ideological ideas in that light.  They may have their merit and contain a great deal of good information regardless; but they also strike me as being a bit ethnocentric if not specifically stipulated to say they are in no way condoning a so-called superiority of the West.

But without actually saying it, there’s no way to tell and this ends up looking like an implicit endorsement of a Western European, ethnocentric and indeed Eurocentric, worldview.

That’s no help at all in discussions like this of evolutionary change and how we approach the idea of it as societies  … just more bad press for evolutionary theory and scholarship.

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http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/evolution-vs-wealth/

Evolution vs. wealth

From Calamities of Nature comes this unprofessionally drawn but most enlightening graph of the relationship between national wealth (gross domestic product) and belief in evolution, with each dot representing a country (dots from similar regions have the same color).

The points are not all independent, of course, because geographically contiguous countries have similar religions (ergo similar feelings about evolution) and similar degrees of wealth.  Still, it shows what I’ve mentioned several times before: northern Europe has high national wealth and high belief in evolution; eastern Europe has the opposite, even though many of those countries were once Communist, and the poorer you are, the less likely you are to accept evolution.

The positive relationship suggests that countries that are wealthier, and whose inhabitants are doing better, have less impetus to be religious, and hence less need to reject evolution.

Most striking to Americans is our status as an outlier: our acceptance of evolution is much lower than our GDP would indicate. This is probably the result of other factors that make American society, while wealthy, more socially dysfunctional: greater income inquality, lack of social support like national health care, and so on (see Greg Paul’s work on the strong negative relationship between societal “success” and religiosity).

I’m not a sociologist, of course, so my take is at best superficial, but more and more data show that religion takes hold when society fails to fulfill certain fundamental needs of its members, making them  less secure and more likely to grab for the supernatural.  While the U.S. is a wealthy country, it is very low on Greg Paul’s “successful society scale,” and we have inordinately high levels of income inequality, also a sign of social insecurity.

I’m not a Marxist, but data support Karl’s famous statement, ”Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.”

Secular Liberalism and the Rapprochement with Progressive Religion

25 Mar

Secular Liberalism:  Last, Best Hope for a True Rapprochement between Secular Values and Progressive Traditions in Religion

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I’m as critical of accomodationism as anybody.  But given the latest back and forth between the no-talk godless and the lets-talk wing of religionists and nonbelievers, I think it’s time for a forced truce between the two factions and a negotiation of the terms of surrender. The religious accommodation camp should admit defeat and let a discussion of secular religion proceed forward, allowing the metaphysics of the past to pass away the way it should have done so a long time ago, and take its place alongside the other great mythologies of history.  … They were phantasms anyway to begin with so it shouldn’t matter whether they’ve finally been acknowledged to be that or not.  No one’s going to care in fact if they are declared thus and are publicly agreed on to be ficticious, except for perhaps the committed religious and supernaturalists.

And, yet, many secularists are going to have to admit a kind of defeat also.  They were defeated from the start by the atheist heritages of history and the secular strains of thought systems like Buddhism and Taoism, which rendered modern secularism obsolete by virtue of its commitment to contemporary, Western culture … Worse still, they’ve been undercut by the liberal strains of religious traditions (ala Jimmy Carter’s form of liberal Christianity, liberal theologians in Christianity, et al). … Point is, they’ve unknowingly been outmaneuvered on these issues, and its time to move on after having acknowledged their loss at liberal religion’s hands.

Liberal Christianity has trumped secular orthodoxy.  Time to pick up the pieces … It’s over but it’s not over.  The old debate is now defunct.  The new consideration – that of a Secular Liberalism – should now be taken up by those liberal religious, secularists, and anti-accomodationists willing to do it.

Here’s the task.  Our world’s in a bad way … economically, socially, environmentally … and we have to do something monumental to fix it.  We have to address such issues as climate change, the possibility of a large scale war occurring in the Middle, dismantling institutional behemoths of the past (leftover monarchical systems and holdover theocracies of the premodern era), and how to best construct governments and societies to serve the needs of people all over the globe.  But to do that, we can’t merely expect to apply modernistic or Western-centric solutions to these problems w/o further understanding the wider domains of human experience and culture.  Therefore, re-constituted ‘religion’s‘ task here would be to help us flesh out those aspects of its traditions that would best assist us in gauging the most globally appropriate, historically conscious, humanocentric approaches to handling these issues we’re faced with in the world.

Maybe it’s just a fantasy to envision this kind of an alliance between liberal believers and secularists, but it’s no more of a pipe dream than envisioning either a completely religion-free, philosophy-free world or a new, politically leftist, religionism of the future.  It’s worth a try and the New Atheists should take it up before they find themselves in a major conflagration with religiously-minded social  conservatives here in the Trans-Atlantic world and abroad in places like the Middle East where the power of reactionary Islam is growing in concert with intransigence towards the West.

A newfound Secular Liberalism would be a welcome change for our world, torn apart as it were by competing orthodoxies, dogmatisms, and neo-conservative, tea party style machinations on social welfare and democratic values in society.  Spearheaded by progressives, socialists, and social democrats in the U.S. and abroad, such a movement would go a long way in addressing our world troubles as well as mending fences between liberal secularists, religious liberals, and of course their counterparts in the orthodox secularist community (AKA the so-called Dogmatic Atheists).

Not to do so only ensures the victories of dogmatic conservatisms around the world and the outdated religious impulses that gave birth to them.  If a better tomorrow is to come for our world and for humanity, then Secular Liberalism must be at its forefront. In lieu of that, we’re lost to the culture wars of the past.

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http://darwiniana.com/2012/03/05/time-for-a-far-left-ultra-radical-xtianity/

03.05.12 – Time for a far left ultra radical Xtianity

The history of Xtianity shows the falseness of the current ultra-conservative character of most Xtian churches, in the sense that originally the emergence of the religion was part of the Jewish revolt against Rome, and the Reformation was a revolt against the Theocratic cooptation of that original revolt. … Could an Xtian socialism/communism temper that disaster in the coming crash of capitalist modernity? Absolutely it could.

Living the Dream, Standing Together

24 Mar

Living “the Dream”:  Standing together to bring about Real Change in the World.

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Want to change the world?  Want to really stand up for the oppressed and the dispossessed in society?  Then be prepared to run into the social resistance and the institutional friction that comes with it.

The Palestinian-Arab-Israeli conflict didn’t happen overnight, nor did it occur in a vacuum.  It’s not some one-sided, black-and-white issue with a set of so-called “good guys” versus a group of apparent “bad guys” on the other side.  This is a complex ethnic and religious affair with plenty of goodness and badness to go around on all sides of the debate, be it the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel or the disrespect of Israelis and Jews by Arab nations and groups.

I really do empathize with the young lady in the AIPAC protest video as shown on Louis Proyect’s blog; she’s standing up for the Palestinians; but at the same time what’s to be done when the tables are then turned on Israel and the Jewish people? … Do we then accept Arab/Palestinian mistreatment of Jews and the suppression of dissent as a given when the roles have been reversed and it’s Israelis and Jews being mistreated as their defenders are being silenced? …  Of course we shouldn’t accept that.

The best solution here as I see it is what Mike’s laid out in his Inspirational Freethought post, “We’re All Dreamers” centered around a concert performance by Liel Kolet, Bill Clinton, and a chorus of Jewish and Arab children singing ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon on the occasion of Shimon Peres’s 80th birthday.  Forget about whether this performance seems cliché/socially contrived or not.  The important thing here is that Arabs, Jews, others stood together (if even only for a little while) in a common spirit of brotherhood and humanity and in spite of the differences that have kept their peoples apart over the years and over the ages.  They made a welcome gesture for change and the promise of the future.

Mike hits on the key principle behind the performance nicely in his remarks.  If you haven’t already done so, I hope you visit his post and watch the video.  It really is a remarkable tribute to standing together in human solidarity in spite of our differences (or even our supposed differences) as human beings.

That’s how we’ll finally be able to bring about real and lasting change for our world.

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http://inspirationalfreethought.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/were-all-dreamers/

We’re All Dreamers – Sep 18 – Posted by Mike.

It couldn’t have been too long ago when Liel Kolet and Bill Clinton, along with 40 Jewish and 40 Arab children, sang “Imagine” together on stage.

I love this because they didn’t make the abusive mistake of labeling children a certain religion (i.e. Muslim) but instead described their ethnicity (“Jewish” refers not to the religion, I assume).

I also love it because secularism and a respect for all people is the only way we can survive on this earth. Secularism is humankind’s last hope for a world society that will in actuality and practice live on this earth in peace.

Indeed, let’s imagine there’s no religion. No promises from deities. No divine interventions in the Middle East real estate market. No chosen peoples, no covenants with gods. No prophets and revelations. Only us. Only here. Only tomorrow.

Passing it off on Darwin …

23 Mar

Passing it off on Darwin:  The Republican Budget Plan and the politics of saying something is Socially Darwinist.

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I’ve been thinking about this piece by Robert Reich, turning it about in my head over and over again.  Good points? … Maybe.  But I keep wondering, is he on target with it?  Is the House GOP’s plan Social Darwinist? … Perhaps it does smack of Herbert Spencer; but on that count, it’s just as correct to say that it’s as characteristic of Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Friedrich Nietzsche too in its political proportions as it is of the former.  So I’m left to think this is just more political mudslinging in an election year as it is anything else … Just more Democratic Party talking points here in the U.S. pure and simple as it is any honest, fair minded, and right headed assessment of the GOP.

Back to my question, is it Darwinist in a socially-framed context?  I’m not so sure it is.  Do I agree with it?  No.  Do I agree with the tenets of what is called Social Darwinism? Obviously not!  But at the same time, I’m not at all comfortable in putting this on Charles Darwin’s shoulders no matter what we think [or don’t think] of Natural Selection or the science/discourse of Darwinian biology.

To slough this Republican plan off onto Darwinian theory, in the form of so-called Social Darwinism or otherwise, is a maligning of Charles Darwin and the science he stood for.   Like Darwin or not, he doesn’t deserve to be associated with the Republicans in this instance nor with this plan of theirs.

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http://darwiniana.com/2012/03/21/the-republicans-social-darwinist-budget-plan/

03.21.12 – The Republican’s Social-Darwinist Budget Plan – Posted in General at 11:36 am by nemo

The Republican’s Social-Darwinist Budget Plan by Robert Reich

In announcing the Republicans’ new budget and tax plan Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said “We are sharpening the contrast between the path that we’re proposing and the path of debt and decline the president has placed us upon.”  Ryan is right about sharpening the contrast. …  The real contrast is over what the plan does for the rich and what it does to everyone else. This would give the wealthiest Americans an average tax cut of at least $150,000 a year.  The money would come out of programs for the elderly, lower-middle families, and the poor.  So what’s the guiding principle here? Pure Social Darwinism. Reward the rich and cut off the help to anyone who needs it.

Welcome to the Big Tent of Secularism …

22 Mar

Welcome to the Big Tent of Secularism:  Humanism already Encompasses the Humane and a-theistic traditions of the Past

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So atheists, we’re told, are dumb.  The only trouble is they seem to know more about religion than the religious do.  So how “dumb” is that? …

This brings me to what I’m going to talk about today in this post.  It has to do with Secularism and Reason.  Here’s what Mike has to say about the matter on Inspirational Freethought.

Atheists are not angry for the sake of it. We’re angry because we care deeply about this world, and all the inhabitants in it. “We aren’t angry because there’s something wrong with us. We’re angry because there’s something right with us.”

We’re angry because the untestability, unverifiability of religion is what makes it uniquely capable of grotesque immorality and unbelievable disconnect from reality. It’s what makes religion unlikely to promote open, liberal societies. It’s been 2000+ years, for heavens sake. We are sick of watching this world go by like this. We don’t want to see people suffer and wallow in delusion anymore. We want to see this end.

And yes, we want to be respected, too. Rather than being criticized all the time for being angry or confrontational, we want society to actually listen to our arguments and criticisms about why religion is wrong. We want people to consider that maybe, just maybe, atheists have things to be legitimately angry about. We want people to consider that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t with atheism or atheists, but with religion.

Of course, we want the same rights and treatment as religious people in this society. Whether that means opposing faith-based initiatives or taxing churches, standing up for people like Jessica Ahlquist or fighting to improve our status as the most distrusted minority in America, we will work hard to be respectful members of society. We will condemn hate and bigotry, but we will never ever compromise the truth.

We will walk hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters to make this world a better place. We want to continue to fully and unconditionally support the goals of the LGBTQ and feminist community. Atheists want to organize in ways never done before, whether that means supporting closeted atheist clergy members, volunteering as a group at a homeless shelter, or raising millions of dollars for Doctors Without Border or for the fight against cancer. Instead of being bullied, threatened, or discriminated against, we want to be integral parts of YOUR community.

And yes, we want to be able to spread our values. We want to organize events like Reason Rally as a celebration of what we’ve accomplished so far. We want politicians to come to these events to acknowledge that we are citizens too, that the separation of church and state actually means something, and that we don’t just have a voice, but a vote. We want to feel and be empowered to navigate this world in loving and supportive communities, to know that we belong and that there are a lot more of us than the religious would like to acknowledge.

My defense of atheism is not about epistemology or science. That argument has gone and passed. It’s over. And it’s been over for a long time. My defense of atheism is about our collective humanist values. We love this world too.  And sometimes, just sometimes, and maybe, just maybe, we do a better job than most people give us credit for.

I’m in total agreement with this.  And, yet, we always fall into this trap of having our secularism and atheism be defined “away” from us by the religionists and other proponents of a more classically-based metaphysical worldview. As John Landon points out on Darwiniana.

http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2012/03/i_know_where_im_going_to_be_ne.php

This Reason Rally is based on a fallacy: that only atheism represents secularism. As we have pointed out here many times, the religious and the secular are intertwined, and the attempt to monopolize the term ‘secular’ by the new atheists is destructive.

You know, I’m awfully tired of us always getting boxed up into these quandaries. Here’s my solution.  Let’s scrap some of these ideas – RELIGION, ATHEISM, SECULARISM – totally scrap them in terms of the dichotomies we usually draw when it comes to these concepts.  Then, at least, we might have a chance at coming up with better categories to explain these issues and variations in human experience.

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RELIGION: So a soft or minor form of religion emerged in historical tandem with secular traditions throughout history? …  Alright. So call it a cultural tradition or a therapeutic philosophy. But keep that distinguished from the metaphysical aspects of religion from which all too many of our problems in human history have arisen.

Furthermore, make sure to make it absolutely clear you aren’t denigrating people’s social experiences or heritages but only the superstition that cuts them off from truly embracing their humanity and cultural traditions as human persons.  That’s all.  There’s no need to make Western cultural modernity a prerequisite for nonbelief or atheism. And, here, I think, humanists and secularists have already done that. We’re not Eurocentric or solely modernistic; so we can move on from that issue.

ATHEISM: What kind? … Buddhist?  Stoic?  Ancient or contemporary?  Western or non-Western … Old or “New” Atheism?  … Here the onus is on critics of atheism to define what they mean when they talk about Neo-Atheism versus a-theistic- cultural systems of the past.  Here’s a hint:  these past traditions were tricky.  They weren’t always overtly religionistic, and some even embraced a quietist philosophy per contra metaphysics (Lao Tse’s Taoism). And, yet, many of them could still be called mystical or gnostic. In that sense, they’re most certainly to be differentiated from Modern Atheism.  They, therefore, require a critiquing in a modern, Atheistic sense.

But, you don’t need to unilaterally toss out the one to take up the other.  Just remember, the humanistic heritage of Atheism already incorporates these lower-case -atheisms of history; all it does differently is sets aside their homages to the definitiveness of an ethereal realm beyond this one.  We’re already Buddhist, Taoist, et al, -atheists by virtue of our being humanist atheists of the modern day 21st century.

SECULARISM: Another bugaboo of a concept.  Are we talking about “secularism” in an irreligious context or “secular” from a this-worldly, the-worldly context?  Weird way to say it! … However, the trouble is in the older senses of the word ‘secular’, defined largely from religious and philosophical discourses in the past.  What “World” or “worlds” are we talking about?  … Ultimately, there is only one WORLD or  universe or reality in which things happen, whether or not we subscribe to the religious point of view. The metaphysicians, though, seem to think it contains ethereal principles as well.  So, we get caught again in a debate over whether they are ‘fairies dancing on the lawn’ and similar debates over what our reality consists of. …

But, here, a third option is actually open to us mitigating and reconfiguring our sense of the SECULAR.  We don’t need to accept a world of gods and spirits to embrace the idea that our universe is both mysterious and amazing.  Science has already shown us we live in a fantastic cosmos of natural principles (i.e. quantum mechanics, Einsteinian relativity, and the rest). Being secular doesn’t need to mean we clasp at only the ‘ordinary’ or ‘mundane’ of the world.  We don’t need to embrace what I’d call ordinary-ism to be secularist.  All it means is we reject the notion of gods/spirits hopping about all over creation, and because of that rejection we bring a very skeptical and even cynical eye to the idea that spiritualist principles make the world turn.  Apart from that, the world is still a place of wonder.  Secularism is a worldview that can both encompass the secularisms of the past & critically study them … while not throwing the baby of ‘wonder’ out with the bathwater of ‘metaphysics’.

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Hope this doesn’t sound accomodationist to people.  That’s not my intent.  Instead, recognize the syncretism of humanism and history already encompasses the totality of human experience without fudging on atheism or secularist principles.  There are in fact ways we can ‘have our cake and eat it too.”  In that sense, then, we say to Buddhists, Taoists, and others: ‘Welcome to the big tent of Secularism. In the universal spirit of humanism, we’re glad to have you on board!’

Unseating “FDR’s on Horseback”

19 Mar

Unseating “FDR’s on Horseback”

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Louis Proyect has included a very interesting post in his blog entries for today.

Left Forum 2012 – After the Crisis, is a New New Deal Possible? Do We Want One?

Especially timely for me given my untempered praise for Roosevelt and FDR-style social programs over the past several weeks on this blog and elsewhere. Point taken!  Maybe there is a way out of these problems without looking for, as John Landon so aptly put it “FDR’s on horseback.” I still like Roosevelt and think his policies were good; but here’s the critique and the alternative, in case you think my posts up to this point were too one sided in favor of Roosevelt.

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http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/left-forum-2012/

March 19, 2012 – Left Forum 2012 – Filed under: Left Forum — louisproyect @ 6:59 pm

The Left Forum is always a mixed bag but even if some panel discussions turn out to be duds, there is always enough there to warrant the time and money spent … To start with the best, After the Crisis, is a New New Deal Possible? Do We Want One? was just what I hoped it would be: a debunking of the FDR presidency in the spirit of chapter 13 of Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States”.