October 4, 2015

Why Are We Surprised the Pope Met With Kim Davis?

Pope Francis Korea Haemi Castle 19 (cropped)I understand that many atheists do not particularly care for Kim Davis, and the reasons for this make sense to me. While I oppose the efforts to publicly shame her online, I do not approve of her behavior. I also understand that many atheists are no great fans of the Pope - the current one, any of his predecessors, or the institution he represents. And again, the reasons for this are not what I'd characterize as unclear. I share these negative feelings.

What is less clear to me is why the news that the Pope met with Ms. Davis during his visit to the U.S. was so compelling that it had to be reported on over and over again by so many atheists. Did I miss the memo where the Catholic Church announced their unequivocal support for same-sex marriage and apologized for taking a leadership role in promoting bigotry for so long? The Pope's meeting with Ms. Davis did not strike me as particularly surprising. In fact, it seems rather consistent with what I would have thought most atheists would expect.

The Catholic Church is an institution that still exorcises "demons" and has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of empathy for children who have been sexually assaulted by their own priests. They continue to oppose contraception in regions ravaged by HIV/AIDS even as people die. Would we really expect better from their leader?

October 3, 2015

A Quiet October

Lon Chaney as seen in The Phantom of the Opera...
Lon Chaney as seen in The Phantom of the Opera, 1925. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Things are going to be unusually quiet around here this October. So quiet it will be downright spooky! No, I won't be locking myself in a room and watching as many horror movies as possible for the month. I wish I had time to do that again this year but no such luck.

I'm bracing for an especially busy month at work which just happens to coincide with having family in town for a visit and a few other stressful things all happening this month. Some of was poor planning on my part; most of it was unavoidable. In any case, I expect to have much less free time for atheist blogging than usual.

Before I realized how much I had to do, I had the fleeting thought that I might try to take the entire month of October off from blogging. In fact, I was toying with the idea of completely unplugging myself from the Internet for a month (except for what parts of it I have to use for work, of course). I think I will try that at some point, but it probably won't be this month. As busy as I expect to be, it doesn't seem like a fair test of my willpower or whatever else it might test. And besides, I'm not sure I could go a whole month without checking in on #manspreading.

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October 1, 2015

Far More to Political Orientation Than Right-Left

Political chart.svg
"Political chart" by Traced by User:Stannered, via Wikimedia Commons.
I mentioned in a recent post that I grew up with negative attitudes toward libertarianism because I did not adequately understand it. I'm still learning about it, and I've discovered far more nuance than I realized was there. In this post, I'd like to share how moving beyond the simple right-left dimension has helped me understand the complexity of political orientation and led me to find common ground with many people where I would not have expected to find it.

As a child, I thought of political orientation as something that existed along a single right-left dimension. Conservatives could be found on the right of center; liberals could be found on the left of center. It was no more complicated than that because I didn't know any better. As I became a bit more politically aware during late adolescence, I began to recognize that there was more variability along this right-left dimension than I had previously realized. Not all conservatives and not all liberals were the same, and it made far more sense to think about one's relative position along the dimension. Some liberals were much farther out to the left than others; some conservatives were much farther out to the right than others. I discovered that where along the dimension someone landed was more useful in understanding them than applying labels like "liberal" or "conservative."

As I moved into adulthood, I realized that the uni-dimensional right-left continuum was too simplistic and that something else was needed to account for the full range of diversity in political ideology. But I still wasn't sure what it was. A big part of the problem is that I had bought into the idea that the right-left dimension was supposed to be sufficient for modeling all the variability that was out there. For example, I thought that socialism could be found to the left of conventional liberalism on the left side of the dimension and that libertarianism could be found to the right of conservatism on the right side of the dimension. This overly simplistic approach limited my understanding of both. It also didn't help when it came to things like neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism, neither of which seemed to be a matter of just moving a bit more to the right or the left along the single dimension.

September 30, 2015

Jesus and Charles Manson

Charles Manson
Charles Manson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If a large group of people were raised from birth to believe a certain set of stories, it is reasonable to expect that many of them would continue to believe these stories into their adolescent and early adult years. The stories, even if they seemed highly implausible to those not raised to believe them, would likely retain some influence over many of those who had been raised to believe them. Stories involving prophecy, prophets, gods, "holy" men, angels, and the like would, at the very least, prepare those who had been raised to believe them to interpret their experiences in certain ways.

If the group of people who had been raised to believe these stories was large enough, we can safely conclude that at least some of them would be less intelligent, less capable of critical thinking or skepticism, more gullible, suffer from more emotional problems, and/or easier to manipulate than others. Individual differences in these characteristics would - in a sufficiently large and diverse group - make this a reality. So within this group of people who had been raised to believe a certain narrative, some would be at an added disadvantage relative to others in the same group.

If an unscrupulous but charismatic figure were to emerge and claim that he or she had been sent to fulfill the sort of prophecy these people had been raised to believe, some of them would undoubtedly accept this person's claims. Such claims would fit the narrative and seem far more plausible than they might otherwise to those who had been indoctrinated to believe the stories. And while many of them would certainly remain skeptical, some of them - those disadvantaged in some of the ways mentioned above perhaps - would be ready to accept the claims. Some might go so far as to follow this prophetic figure. And some of them might go so far as to kill or die for this sort of leader.

September 29, 2015

We Are In Desperate Need of Improved Media Literacy

Newspaper "gone to the Web."
Newspaper "gone to the Web." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There was a topic that came up briefly during SPJ Airplay that I found quite interesting even though it had little to do with GamerGate, gaming, feminism, or even journalistic ethics. It came up so briefly that it was easy to miss, but I have found myself thinking about it ever since. The topic was media literacy, and it involves the question of whether the average person consuming online and/or traditional news media regards news sources as roughly equivalent or draws the same sort of distinctions about their quality a professional journalist might.

During the panel, the topic came up because some of the GamerGate panelists were criticizing media outlets that the professional journalists did not seem to take seriously as legitimate media. The most notable example was probably Gawker, but there were others. The sense I had while watching was that the professional journalists were close to saying something like, "It's Gawker, what did you expect?" I found myself wondering whether the average person makes a meaningful distinction between Gawker and something like The Washington Post. I certainly hope so, but I'm not so sure.


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