Cross my palms with silver, and I'll write better posts. Promise.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fuck Bad Language!

One of the rights that Americans and Western Europeans often forget is the right to disagree. This ability is fundamental to anything that may be viewed as a progressive, democratic or just society. Life is a battlefield of ideas, and the best ideas eventually win out. We may not see it happen in this generation, but hopefully our children will. So whenever people attempt to stifle the free speech of others, I get seriously angry. I remember being a frightened little Jewish girl in Russia and having to whisper secrets so that the the evil Communists, whoever they were, wouldn't overhear. I remember that fear. And I don't want any children, ever, to suffer that fear again.

So, while I personally rarely swear, I defend the right of those who do. I may question their manners, tact, wisdom, or motives, but that's as far as I'll go. Further, I'm not offended by any derogatory terms that humans employ to debase group membership, such as gender, race, education, nationality, sexual orientation, or low socioeconomic class. The bad words are the symptom of the disease, but not the disease itself.  Negative words used in a positive light are, in my view, an indication that the horrors of tribalism are finally receding. Many gendered slurs have lost their power and thrust, thus leaving us pushing for greater and greater intellectual climax in the impassioned back and forth of heated debate. Similar observations can be made about group-based slurs of any stripe. In the end, people who use discriminatory language say a lot more about themselves, than about those whom they're trying to offend in the first place (if offense is even the goal).

Personally, I try not to use objectionable slurs out of respect for others (though this is difficult, since almost every individual has a different list of words that are inherently "bad.") Also, if I'm wrong in my analysis, I'd rather err on the side of caution. For me, these are valid reasons to generally abstain from adult-onset potty-mouth syndrome. Insults, especially on the internet, destroy arguments and turn them into insipid flame wars, which some moderators seem to, ahem, encourage. But it's not the "bad words" standing alone that offend me. It's the hurtful discriminatory sentiment hiding behind them. And it's perfectly possible to be despicably racist and revoltingly sexist whilst using profoundly polite Queen's English and sipping afternoon tea.

If you didn't read any of the above, then let me quickly sum it up: please feel free to call me a slut or a twat any time you like, but don't you dare fucking call me a  liar. And always keep in mind that the words you say define you, and not anyone else. Finally, if you have nothing more to worry about than "whether someone reduced [you] and all other women to their genitals by calling [you] a c**t," then take up basket weaving, work in a soup kitchen, help homeless youth, be a Big Sister or Big Brother, donate money to help the plight of women living under Sharia law and, generally speaking, stop being such a c**t.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Do Atheists Want to See the Eradication of Religion?

A little over an hour ago, an acquaintance brought the above question to my attention, and it gave me slight pause for thought. I'm guessing that a lot of the "eradication of religion" rhetoric is more public perception than reality. Then again, public perception often morphs into reality. In any case, I've heard at least one atheist say that s/he wants to see religion eradicated. So, provided she told me the truth, and I relayed it to you correctly, we now have anecdotal evidence that at least one such atheist exists. But that atheist isn't me; I want to live and let live. I want to see the need for superstitions evaporate, yet somehow retain the charitable work and community services that many religious organizations perform. We can all agree, I think, that we want to see the harm caused by religion eradicated. But even that's not easy to accomplish because unless it's blatantly obvious, we can't agree on a universal definition of harm. Besides, my harm may very well be your pleasure.  But I digress.

Elevatorgate* was what made me want to start this blog. I saw skepticism and atheism slowly turning into dogmatism. On the one hand, the scandal was about personality clashes, yet on the other it was a fascinating illustration of how masses of self-proclaimed skeptics proved to be incapable of independent thought. (I'm not implying that that any of the participants are dumb, quite to the contrary, I'm simply saying that groupthink and cognitive bias are extremely difficult forces to over come).

One last thought: When the trombone is playing in an orchestra, you can barely hear the other instruments. Yet they're in the vast the majority. There's a little bit of that going on in atheism as well.

*In case you missed the Elevatorgate drama, this post from Jean Kazez is accurate, compassionate, and unbiased. Please read it with an open mind (but not so much that your brains fall out, of course.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Free Thinker

In the traditional sense, freedom of thought largely meant freedom from the belief in god. It was a brave and daring proclamation to make. Today, however, most Western societies are largely secular, with the notable exception of America. Many American atheists are attempting to eradicate religion altogether, but given human nature, the task is overwhelming. While the religious may be open to persuasion, they don't change their minds when they hear someone - namely, a small minority - ridiculing their cherished beliefs.

Now, what about Dawkins, you say? Wasn't he successful by ridiculing the religious? First of all, Dawkins wrote brilliant books on science and atheism, which were bursting with sparkling English wit and erudite turns of phrase. And Dawkins wasn't cruel to ordinary people, either. Instead, he was cruel to religious practices and to those who profited from them. This made him different from some of today's "gnu" atheists, who are willing to literally wreck a person in order to get them to shut up. Of course, the "gnu" atheist's targets rarely shut up; and in fact, they make it their life's goal to destroy this so-called movement before it gains any real traction. After all, the numbers are on their side.

Persuasion is an art, and reading people (not in a psychic way, of course) is a talent. Great teachers and debaters take these factors into account.