Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 4th, 2015

Lead and crime study for a century ago

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Kevin Drum has an extremely interesting post on the lead/crime question, very carefully considered.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2015 at 3:29 pm

Speaking of how memes compete and evolve…

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Check out this Salon article by Jeffrey Tayler:

I would like to thank Reza Aslan.  In his recent Salon rebuttal to denunciations (including mine) of religion put forward by people the media has come to call New Atheists, he resurrects a word the late Christopher Hitchens, now three years departed, used to describe himself: antitheist.  (Aslan even provides the link to a relevant Hitchens text from long ago that is well worth reading.)  Antitheists hold that the portrayal of our world and humankind’s place in it as set out in the foundational texts of the three Abrahamic religions constitutes, to quote Hitchens, “a sinister fairy tale,” and that “life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually the case.”  The reason?  “[T]here may be people,” he wrote, “who wish to live their lives under a cradle-to-grave divine supervision; a permanent surveillance and [around the clock] monitoring [a celestial North Korea],” but he certainly did not.  The eternally repressive alternate reality concocted by the religious of eons past, if true, would be, in his words, “horrible” and “grotesque.”

Well said!  Speaking for myself, I’m happy to be labeled an antitheist.  Or an atheist.  It makes no difference to me.  The point is, I do not, cannot, believe, and do not wish to believe.  I have never envied people of faith their worldview, never esteemed the ability to consider something true without evidence, never respected as morally superior those who manage this feat of credulity and illogicality.  For that matter, I have never had an experience for which I sought a religious – that is, supernatural or superstitious – explanation.  For Aslan, though, the semantic distinction between “atheist” and “antitheist” is key and intended to discredit those speaking out for rationalism and against religion.

“Not only is New Atheism not representative of atheism,” he writes.  “It isn’t even mere atheism.”  It is in fact antitheism, which he finds “to be rooted in a naive and, dare I say, unscientific understanding of religion – one thoroughly disconnected from the history of religious thought.”  He contends that “atheism has become more difficult to define for the simple reason that it comes in as many forms as theism does” – negative atheism, positive atheism, empirical atheism, and even agnosticism.  He cites an obscure poll dividing nonbelievers into categories – academics, activists, seeker-agnostics, “apatheists” and “ritual atheists,” with the least numerous (and hence ostensibly least credible) being the antitheists, who account for only 12.5 percent.  His conclusion: “the vast majority of atheists – 85 percent according to one poll – are not anti-theists and should not be lumped into the same category as the anti-theist ideologues that inundate the media landscape.”

Just how an atheist’s understanding of religion per se differs from that of an antitheist Aslan does not say.  Neither of them, after all, believe in God.  And is he saying that an atheist’s concept of faith is more “scientific” (and thus presumably more accurate) than an antitheist’s?  Doubtful: Aslan is a Muslim.  The critical factor would appear to be that unlike (upstart) antitheists, (old-time) atheists, at least as he sees it, don’t speak out much about religion.  Presumably, (plain-old) atheists keep quiet and humbly listen to scholars such as Aslan explain away the role of faith in, for instance, the barbarities that assault us daily in news from abroad.  If, however, atheists forcefully advocate their rationalist convictions, they become antitheists and join the negligible 12.5-percent minority of his poll, to be safely dismissed or regarded as an annoyance.

These are questionable assumptions, to put it charitably, but they are beside the point.  Aslan is hoping to discredit and classify into irrelevance those who publicly insist, as I have (and he quotes me), that religion is “innately backward, obscurantist, irrational and dangerous.”  Backward, because it relies not on reason for solutions, but on looking to ancient texts for ready-made answers.  Obscurantist, because it discourages searching for truthes about our world using empirical methods.  Irrational, because (for starters) the very notion that this or that shepherd or merchant ages ago was chosen by a divine being to deliver a message valid eternally and for all humanity offends reason and commonsense.  Dangerous, because (again, just for starters), armed with “holy” texts, the faithful practice all sorts of mischief and savagery, damaging both members of their own communities and those outside them.  But atheist or antitheist, no matter: what counts is the shared bedrock of nonbelief, the refusal to accept as fact, and defer to, what is asserted without evidence.

There can be only one reason that Aslan adduces his taxonomy of nonbelievers: . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

But back to New Atheists and antitheists and their alleged penchant for dangerous fundamentalism.  Having equated them with history’s most notorious tyrants, Aslan provides incendiary quotes from Richard Dawkins and Hitchens, and poses the question: “If you honestly believed [such terrible things] about religion, then what lengths would you not go through to rid society of it?”

Aslan is not alone in saying this.  Religion scholar Karen Armstrong suggested much the same in a recent Salon interview.  But both are wrong.  Rationalists – I’ll dispense here with Aslan’s spurious taxonomy and use a more appropriate term – are assertively making their case because religion, since the Reagan years, has been abandoning the realm of private conscience (where it has every right to be) and intruding itself into national life, with politicians and public figures flaunting their belief, advocating and (passing) legislation that restricts women’s reproductive rights, attempting to impose preposterous fairy tales (think intelligent design) on defenseless children in science classes, and even, in the case of Texas, recasting the Constitution in school textbooks as a document inspired by the Bible.  Abroad, militants pursuing Islamist agendas have been raining death and destruction on entire populations, with religious extremism the main cause of terrorism the world over.  Given the possibility that terrorists may acquire weapons of mass destruction and nuclear states with faith-based conflicts may let fly their missiles, religion may be said to endanger humanity as a whole.  No one who cares about our future can quietly abide the continuing propagation and influence of apocalyptic fables that large numbers of people take seriously and not raise a loud, persistent, even strident cry of alarm.

I would say the conflict here in terms of memes is quite obvious—overt, even. And note the rapid evolution of the argument and the meme presentation. This is in part why the internet is such a rich meme medium: rapidity of iterations (and mutations) of any meme that begins to succeed in attracting attention. Another advantage is how the internet allows relatively small meme groups whose numbers are nevertheless absolutely large to find each other and reinforce (and perforce continue the evolution) the meme, allowing it to achieve greater exposure = more iterations by more minds = meme success.

I am not thinking specifically of shaving forums, but now that you mention it, that is an interesting meme that has (in effect) captured the attention and effort (in terms of, say, blogging) of quite a few. It’s being a successful meme as it continues to adapt—for example the new slants are expressions of the growth of the overall meme-cluster: fruit of the meme-tree as it were, and memes themselves.

It’s interesting to see so clearly a meme in the wild, and how it works. And, obviously, it would not propagate so well if the meme-core—the DE razor, shaving brush, and shaving soap or shaving cream—did not in fact perform well: better shaves, lower cost, actual enjoyment. No wonder the meme is a success. But still: some seem captured by it. 🙂

And it is exactly as predicted: read this article, by all means.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 January 2015 at 2:32 pm

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