Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Ghost of Dummies Yet To Come- I'm Sorry, Oh Wait...

Let me preface this by saying I’m sorry. Now, that I’ve said that, let me tell you that I’m not. I am NOT sorry.
(I just wanted to get your attention)
I’m not sorry for calling people who believe they’re vampires morons. I’m not sorry for insisting the term “skeptical community” is retarded and that anybody who refers to themselves as a member of that ‘community’ is an elitist twit searching for a place to belong because they’re antisocial, confused, quasi-pedagoguery is generally frowned upon by everyone. 
Everyone is sorry. The American ideal of freedom allows anyone to hold any view you like… as long as you feel bad about it.
There’s nothing really wrong with being sorry. When one makes an error, it’s perfectly acceptable to be contrite. The problem is that constant apologetics eventually distort reality. Why is it so wrong to hurt someone’s feelings? Aren’t some hurtful things true?
Aren’t some people fat? Or gross? Or habitual losers? Or wrong? Or stupid? Or banal?
While it’s doubtful you’ll win any citizenship awards, those criticisms can be perfectly valid in certain circumstances. There are fat people. There are losers. There are idiots and all other sorts of undesirable types of people.
(For those of you into fat acceptance, you may be offended by the fat that I implied fat people are ‘undesirable’. While I am aware of your plight, I simply don’t care, so don’t waste my time and your time complaining about it. After all, every second you waste bitching at me, is a second you could spend crying in the bathroom and  eating French fries.)
The problem with that inclusive thinking is that it makes everything acceptable when it shouldn‘t be.
In my college English class we were assigned the play Hamlet to read at home and discuss in class. In the end, we ended up explicating nearly the entire play because it was virtually unanimous that Shakespeare was ‘too hard’ to understand, and his vocabulary too obscure. The fact is, college is supposed to be hard. Assignments are meant to be challenging. But when the professor observed that ¾ of the class were not able to discuss the play, the conclusion he drew was that we needed to lower the standards and devote two weeks of class time to going over the play and receiving a line by line explanation of what Shakespeare meant.
I'd like to propose an alternate conclusion- maybe the people who can’t understand college level reading should just not be in a college literature class to begin with.
In the push to get everyone into college the fact that not everyone belongs there was overlooked. But rather than say “you’re too stupid to go to college” or simply allowing these people to fail, we devote two weeks to combing through Shakespeare so that the morons in the cheap seats understand that Hamlet died at the end.
Failure in school is a Darwinian mechanism of ensuring that only people who are marginally capable of understanding abstract concepts, performing basic math functions, and showing up at an appointed time occupy future positions in which those skills will feature prominently. 
The downside is failing anatomy may mean you won’t become a doctor- but on the plus side, it means you won’t become a doctor.
Allowing people to succeed when they shouldn’t destroys the only real method of ensuring competency.
One teacher summed this philosophy up when she told our class she wouldn’t allow anyone to fail- because that wouldn’t mean they had failed the class, it would mean she had failed them.
(Isn’t that precious?)
Unfortunately, life is not an after school special. People can (and should) fail because they’re lazy, or undisciplined, or just plain dumb- and letting them succeed is not a cure for those flaws.
(In fact, dumb really can’t be cured at all)
It doesn’t stop there. My daughter has attended birthday parties with games where no one wins and everybody gets participation ribbons. Soccer games where no one keeps score and everybody gets an MVP awards. Classes that banish use of the word ‘can’t’ in some strange endeavor to part with reality by implying that anyone can do anything. Plus size beauty pageants (hey those really have a HUGE impact on the 4 people who watch them!).  And classes where you grade yourself! Add to this, the fact that it’s naughty of us to tell people who think Jesus lives in their toast that they’re delusional, or to tell people who really believe that the ghost hunters are chasing disembodied entities through the halls of condemned building that they’re naive.
In a baffling backwards turn of events, we are responding to a world that is becoming more competitive by becoming less capable of competing in any meaningful way.
(Aha! It’s adapting- only the other way! Leave it to America to innovate an old concept...)
The good news is, by the time our country becomes obsolete, no one will know what the word obsolete means, which means no one’s self esteem will be hurt.
(And isn’t that a victory in and of itself? [No!])
If no one’s self esteem is hurt, then no one will need to apologize! Like my Mom always said… societal collapse means never having to say you’re sorry.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Ghost of Dummies Present- This Is A Blog Entry, Dammit!

My Mom, empress of the well-meaning, forwarded email, sent me a lovely peach of an chain letter that was innocuously titled ‘Christmas Tree’.  I opened it, and realized the prologue was very informative- it declared in bold letters This is a Christmas Tree.

(You can go right ahead and file that in the “No shit Sherlock” category of your mind).

Emboldened by new found knowledge of Xmas Trees, I read on. Beneath that sentence it showed a picture of yet another tree, and beneath it the writing told me that this as well was a Christmas Tree.

My mind groped blindly to try to comprehend the enormity of that fact. How could the first tree be a Christmas tree, if the second one was a Christmas tree too?! Not even a Christmas Tree can be in two pictures at once (or is that places?). I was so confused, yet as I read, the cryptic meaning became apparent.
There were numerous Christmas trees, an entire army, in fact and apparently everyone had taken photographs of them- but then there was a twist in the plot. I came to a tree, and instead of telling me what it was- IT PRECEDED TO TELL ME WHAT IT WASN’T (Genius!)
They were not Holiday Trees, Hanukkah Bushes, or Allah Plants.
(Yeah, because all those things are silly...and they forgot Kwanza)

 I reeled from the deception. Because who wants to sequentially toyed with near the holidays ? (Who?!)  My confusion sent me scurrying to the internet to look for more information (and video montages of fat people falling down the stairs).
But then I found a conflicting set of information. One group of people said that it doesn’t matter how you celebrate the holidays, or what name you call your celebration. This group of people told me that in spite of the fact that the religions were very different and unique, they were really EXACTLY the same- like the Christmas trees!
(So someone tell the extremist Muslims they misunderstood their religion- even when what we believe is very different, that doesn't have to mean that it isn't completely the same.)
They're the same because- all the religions teach LOVE (isn't that absolutely precious?)- which causes one to wonder why the authors of the Bible needed  181,253 words for that.
(That would make it one of the most obscenely verbose Valentine’s cards ever!)
The point of this is: In the spirit of complete ridiculousness, I have decided to call Christmas whatever the hell I want and I encourage you to do the same. 
Allow me to recommend Allahanukwanzitheisticmas.
God sent his only son, Santa Claus, to Earth riding on Comet where he settled in the North Pole. Every Dec. 21st he flies around the world with his reindeer and fills childrens' stockings with virgins... and candy. Then we sacrifice the reindeer to make Chinese food.
The end. If my idea catches, and I have absolutely no faith that it will, I will never have to receive another chain letter email again... or at least until Easter.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Ghost of Dummies Past- The Fallacy of Skepticism

          Let me get this out of the way first- there’s no such thing as a “skeptic community”, so stop using the term.  What constitutes a skeptic? And skeptical in who’s estimation? The people who identify wit the delusion of a skeptical community seem to forget that everybody is skeptical about something, and even the most skeptical person can’t be skeptical about everything. So how skeptical do you need to be to call yourself a member of the “skeptic community”? And more importantly, what do you have to be skeptical about? It’s important to remember that there is a flipside to every argument- ghost hunters are skeptical about scientific explanations of their spooky phenomenon. Conspiracy theorists are skeptical about government undertakings. Creationists are skeptical about evolution- that doesn’t mean they’d blend well at the next Skeptic Society mixer.
(I’ve had this argument before and the counterargument is that ‘skeptic’ as used by the people who consider themselves members of the ‘skeptic community’ may be taken to mean ‘critical thinker’. Which begs the question “why not simply call yourself a “critical thinking community?”)
          It would be great if all the skeptics in the skeptic community were critical thinkers, but apparently there are major caveats about what skeptics are skeptical about. Skeptics can be skeptical about ghosts but not quarks. They can be skeptical of new aged medicine, but not anthropogenic global warming.
(I happen to believe in quarks, not ghosts, and AGW, not New Age Medicine, but that’s beside the point.)
          My point is that few of these “skeptics” can articulate why they believe in the things they do. Viewing the comments on the entry called “The Climategate Fiasco”  there seems to be a general agreement that these “skeptics” believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming, but very little indication as to why. Many people freely admit that they “don’t understand the data”, yet nonetheless they uncritically defend the author of the post and the scientists whose emails were published.
          If you don’t understand the data how can you possibly know whether or not you agree with it?
This comment from a reader called Kostas sums it up great when he says (capitalization and spacing errors theirs) - “That said i believe AGW is a reality just because credible people whose judgment i trust (that would be you) seem to think so.Not to mention that if the right opposes it its probably true (thats being said only half jokingly)”
(Wow… well that just  answers all my questions! I just need to figure out who’s credible and believe what they tell me! And here I was doing all this thinking for nothing! )
          The phenomenon extends well beyond a single post. For every post there seems to be general accolades and agreement for the poster, but only vague hints as to why the audience agrees. In most cases it amounts to a simple restatement of what the poster just said.
          Another great example of this is the recent post “Young Earth Creationism = Darwinism?”. The author was essentially discussing the macroevolution/microevolution debate (if you don’t know what that is then google it)- but everyone who read it and commented seemed to be completely unaware that these arguments were old hat.
          I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to applaud science, even if you lack the capacity to understand it, but if you’re applauding something you don’t understand and calling yourself a  “skeptic” while you do then I’d have to say you’re deluding yourself.
          Believing in something because someone else told you it’s true is not skeptical. They have a word for that, it’s called faith. Many of the skeptic’s have faith that what the other skeptics are telling them, but they don’t know and have no ability to find out.
(This is, ironically the very same attitude that religious supporters are frequently chastised for- them being members of the “non-skeptical community” in the eyes of the skeptic camp.)
          It’s more than that though. A necessary component for critical thinking is to separate a claim from what evidence can be demonstrated and proven to be real. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be scientific proof, a critical thinker should dissemble an idea and see if it makes sense in context. Ideas that don’t, are left on the cutting room floor.
          But I am skeptical about how well they keep to this ideology.
          Daniel Loxton’s Twitter is an excellent source for tidbits:
“Skeptics don't like being together, vilified, called names and dismissed- so (this ain’t rocket science) we shouldn’t do that either.”
You know what else isn’t rocket science? Realizing that, in spite of the fact that Loxton just pointed out that Skeptics don’t like to be lumped together, her lumped them together by calling them skeptics and ascribing a set of preferences.
That isn’t really important- the real problem is that ignores one crucial fact- almost no one likes being called names or vilified. But it also assumes that there are no valid names to be called and no one who deserves to vilified.
He explains that later though:
“It’s off-putting to hear your cherished beliefs mocked, of course, but more than that:  most pseudoscientific beliefs are wrong- NOT stupid.”
While being wrong doesn’t always mean being stupid (to err is human), but sometimes it does. If pseudoscientific aren’t stupid then what is stupid?
Nothing? If ’stupid’, as a word, described nothing, then it wouldn’t be in common use- but it. So surely something must be stupid.
Moreover, stupid is in the eye of the beholder.  Deciding whether something is or isn’t stupid is not a decree handed down from on high- it’s an individual value judgment.
Then there is a whole list of things that skeptics should do or explanations about what skepticism is about- never fully acknowledging that he is only describing what skepticism is for him, and that there are no experts on what a “skeptic” does or doesn’t believe.
Finally, there are statements that tell us skeptics shouldn’t use slang or pejoratives to describe opposing forces, though the exact reason why is not clear. The statement implies that no insults are ever true (if they were then why would we abstain from using them?). No one is ever stupid (even if they are), or obtuse (even when they’re obtuse), or dim-witted, or insipid… even when they are.
It seems like a blatant and deliberate effort to overrule reality in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.
Loxton even mentions how Shermer was dubbed an “accomodationist” and Loxton calls it “probably the lamest thing ever to happen to atheist activism” … since the invention of the term atheist activism, that is. There seems to be an arbitrary standard for what types of euphemisms are permissible.
By all means, look for yourself.
          In fairness, Loxton is not the only one guilty of doing this. It is becoming an increasingly popular attitude espoused within the “community”. and it only calls into question the assertion that skeptics care about finding the truth. 
          I made this entry The Ghost of Dummies past for a reason- we’ve all heard this before. There is another kind of social group that tends to believe what it’s leader say uncritically, make broad moral prescriptions about what it’s members should and should not do, and then makes blanket value judgments based on absolutely nothing- it’s called religion.