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Choice, Belief, and Cognitive Dissonance November 9, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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1 comment so far

A thought occurred to me today while having a conversation on Facebook.

I know, I know…why am I wading into Facebook conversations? It never solves anything, right? Right. Nonetheless, here we are.

So, the question was whether we choose our beliefs or not, and my position is that we do not choose our beliefs, and gave a brief explanation why. But something that someone said made me wonder whether cognitive dissonance is related to the feeling of having chosen a belief, and then something clicked home for me.

Let’s set the stage….

 

Choosing Beliefs: free will

So, whether we choose what we believe is related to the question of free will. I mean, if free will weren’t real, then of course we don’t choose our beliefs because our beliefs would be a function of our will which is not free, right? This touches on the concept of compatibilism, which essentially states that if the action or cognitive state reached is consistent with the desires and aims of the entity which performs said act or concludes the said idea, then the act is said to be “free” insofar as as it is what the entity wants.

In other words, if you eat ice cream and you wanted to eat ice cream, even if it were the case that you could not have done otherwise, then because the act was what you wanted to do then the act was chosen “freely.” Alternatively, if you were coerced or forced to do so by another person, then it is not a free choice. If someone force-feeds you ice cream, whether or not you wanted to do so the act was not “free.”

Let’s put the larger question of general free will aside. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that our will is free in some meaningful sense. So that when I pick up my phone to look at it, I chose to do so (and am not merely addicted to my phone, like some haters might argue). Where does this leave us in terms of beliefs?

 

What is a Belief?

If you believe something, you are accepting it as true that a thing is real or true. One does not need absolute certainty to believe something, although perhaps it’s good to have a good epistemological foundation upon which to support that belief.

Of course, an astute reader might stop me there and say “Hold on! If you’re claim is that we don’t choose our beliefs, wouldn’t saying that we should have good reasons to believe something pull the rug out from under you, from the start? Wouldn’t it imply that you should only choose the well-supported ideas as your beliefs?”

And that astute reader may have started to see where I’m going with this post. We’ll get there.

For now, what I want to define is what I think a belief is, and not how we should get there. If I say that I believe there is a cat in that box, then I’m saying that I accept it as a real state of the universe that this particular box has a cat in it. It does not mean I can prove that there is one, necessarily, or even that the available evidence is sound or even available to be evaluated. It merely means that I have accepted it as a fact, or a true proposition, but it does not necessarily mean that I know it. (Knowledge is another can of worms, completely).

It has no necessary connection to the truth of whether there actually is a cat in the box; I could be wrong, but I currently believe that there is a cat in the box. My reasons are not relevant to the mere question of belief per se.

 

Epistemology

Epistemology is the philosophical study of why I’m right and you’re wrong. OK, it’s not quite that, but it’s the study of how we know, why we know, and ultimately it studies the tools we use to create justifications for the truth of propositions.

So, you believe there is a cat in the box. Why do you believe that? How did you come to that conclusion? Does it feel true to you? Can you see a cat in the hole in the box? Is there a meowing sound coming from inside the box? Did you open the box and see a cat in there?

There are gradations of evidence for the belief, and some of them will be more rationally justified, and convincing to people, than others. If you merely feel like there is a cat in the box, but when we shake it it feels light and no hissing and cat noises ensue, then maybe your feeling is wrong. Maybe the meowing sound is a recording being played on a speaker in the box? Maybe it’s a fake cat you see through the hole in the box. Maybe you’re hallucinating both a cat and a box, and in reality there is not even a box at all. Maybe you’re in the matrix, and there is also no spoon.

In short, epistemology is the study of whether the belief is justified but it is also the study of how we come to conclusions which are justified to different extents.

So, how did you come to this belief?

Are you even consciously aware of how you came to believe in your theory of cats in boxes? Did you earn a PhD in cat-in-box-ology? Did you try to open the box and pet the cat? Did you take the cat out of the box because you were trying to put something else in it when your cat decided the box belonged to her? What was the method you used to come to this belief?

And that leads into the next question.

 

What would it be like if you were wrong?

If it weren’t the case that a cat was in the box, what would that imply about other things you believe and would it affect you in some significant way? If the cat were an illusion, or otherwise just not there, would it shatter your worldview? Would it be painful or somehow life-altering if it were the case that your belief were not true?

How does it feel, and what thoughts do you have, if someone tells you there is no cat in the box? Does it make you curious? Angry? Do you feel pity for the poor deluded fool who can’t perceive the cat? Also, can you actually perceive the cat yourself, or are you inferring it from something else? Maybe you were raised in a home where everyone believed there was a cat in the box, and so you just sort of accepted it from an early age and so the idea seems natural, automatic, and, well…did you ever really choose to believe that the cat was in the box?

I mean…of course you did. Right? You looked at the box. There was something moving in there. You thought you heard a meow. Besides, the box says “cat inside,” and why would someone write that on a box with no cat in it? You really thought about this, and you decided that a cat was in the box. You’re sure. Mostly.

Ok, let’s forget about the damned cat for a minute, and let’s talk about something else. You decide to pick up a newspaper, and you see that it says that your local baseball team won the game last night. Great! that’s awesome. And you believe it, because the newspaper said so. I mean, newspapers make mistakes, but not often of more trivial and easily provable things like this, so you accept it as true, even if only provisionally, because there is evidence which is generally reliable to support it.

But what if someone said “hey, the newspaper made a mistake about last night’s game, and they actually lost in the bottom of the 9th”? What happens then? Did your belief in the outcome of the game waver or change? Did you choose that wavering or shift in belief? Did you, consciously, say to yourself that the question of the result of the game is in the air, epistemologically, and you now choose to believe that they in fact lost? Or did the belief just sort of shift, without you seeing the process take place, and appear in your consciousness without any actual conscious process driving it?

Or this. You see a man steal a candy bar from a convenience store. Did you consciously choose to accept this as reality, or were you convinced by the direct evidence that you saw with your own eyes. I want to emphasize the word “convince” here, because it indicates something happening to you, not you doing something. You became convinced by an experience.

It’s possible you mis-saw what happened; maybe the man actually paid for it already and is just grabbing it now. Maybe he’s the owner of the store, and it’s really his candy bar. But you believe he just stole it, because you saw the evidence (even if you might be wrong). Could you choose to believe that he didn’t steal it? You could conceive of alternative explanations, but until you actually become convinced, whether through rational analysis* or through new information that he didn’t steal it, you will believe that he stole it.

Did you choose to believe that you cannot fly like superman?

You did? Great. Now choose to believe that you can fly like superman.

You can’t, can you?

What’s the problem? You did choose in the first place, right? You were convinced by the evidence of the possibilities of such things, and then chose to believe it, right? Or was it that the belief appeared in your consciousness because of the evidence in its favor? And the only way you could believe otherwise is to see new evidence of your newfound ability to fly.

You do not choose your beliefs. You become convinced of things due to feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Your inability to simply hop from genuine (as opposed merely asserted) belief to belief at your mere whim demonstrates this.

So how is it the case that people believe things that are wrong? If beliefs are the result of evidence, then shouldn’t we only believe things which are evident? Ideally, yes, but there are all sorts of cognitive biases, errors on thinking and perceptions, and deceptions (both external and internal) at play here.

 

Being Wrong

You believe that someone at work hates you, and is trying to ruin your career. You have seen all the evidence and it worries you. They are always short with you, snippy even. And you had that idea at the meeting which they shot down immediately in front of everyone. She didn’t come to the after work happy hour you organized, even though she came to the other one last month. She never talks to you. She probably plots and schemes at home on how to ruin your life. The evidence is obvious, right?

Well, maybe she doesn’t like you. Maybe she despises you even more than your worst fantasies could ever conjure up. Or, maybe, all of these pieces of evidence have other explanations, and she actually thinks you’re a good employee and thinks highly, or maybe just neutral, about you. It’s very easy to have beliefs that are incorrect for all sorts of reasons.

But you’re convinced anyway. Another co-worker says that you are reading into things too much, and she’s short with most people most of the time. She is always speaking up in meetings with ideas and being critical, even with her best friend who she sees all the time after work for drinks. That’s just who she is.

No, you believe she has it out for you. You’ve become convinced and invested in this belief, and if the belief is challenged then a part of your brain sort of reacts against the other evidence and rejects it, perhaps almost imperceptibly. It’s not quite painful, but it’s uncomfortable. The claim just bumps up against your belief and bounces off. You are experiencing cognitive dissonance.

And the more contradictory information you receive, perhaps the more your belief sticks. And maybe, just maybe, as the evidence starts to mount against your belief the feeling of believing it starts to feel more and more like a choice. The more evidence that she likes you–she invites you to lunch with some people, she compliments your work, she nods her head at the next meeting in reaction to your idea–the more the belief that she actually hates you and wants to destroy you starts to feel like you are choosing to believe it because you are actively maintaining it, even if only unconsciously.

And if I came to you on a day or time while you were thinking about your co-worker and asked you whether we choose our beliefs you say yes; you do choose your beliefs. Perhaps not all of them, but this belief feels like a choice right now, and you are a free, curious, and intelligent person not merely subject to the random whims of random chance in terms of what you believe about the world. Your beliefs are rational, reasonable, and you have given them thought, so of course you choose them.

But that doesn’t address how you came to believe it in the first place. Because the initial question is not “are you choosing to believe this now,” it’s “how did you come to this belief?” It’s well-known that many of our reasons for our beliefs are post-hoc rationalizations, and not the reason we originally came to the belief itself (as I have written about before) ; not how to hold onto, rationalize, or explain your beliefs, but how you came to accept it as true. In other words, we need to be able to distinguish between the origin of a belief and our mind’s ability to maintain, defend, or rationalize a belief after it has made a home in our brain.

And in most cases, I don’t think we know how we started to believe something, especially when it comes to things like religious, political, or larger worldview beliefs. If you really think about where your beliefs come from, you may often be left without a clue. All the justifications that start to perculate up are an after-the-fact rationalization of the thing that’s already there, even if your belief is actually true, rational, and strongly evidenced. You didn’t choose it, you became convinced for good, bad, or mixed good/bad causes and reasons.

 

Beliefs: Rationalizations versus origins

As I reflect on some of my more certain, core beliefs, I don’t feel a sense of defending or actively maintaining the belief. I feel no cognitive dissonance when I think “this computer is in front of me” or “the world seems like a collection of material things interacting in complicated ways.” But I do feel some cognitive dissonance if I think “Nas’ Illmatic is the best rap album of all time”.

See, I love that album, and I have a fair amount of emotional investment in thinking it’s the best rap album because of my love for it. But I’m also aware that there is evidence out there that it’s not the best rap album. There are some pretty damned good Wu-Tang albums, for example. Also, there are a lot of good albums I probably don’t know about which may be better. I feel, while thinking those words, that I’m actively rationalizing the answer in real time, mostly unconsciously, and it feels more like I’m choosing that belief. I feel the power of having made that choice, but the feeling of having made the choice is not the origin of the belief, it is the experience of rationalizing the belief.

I’ve been fooled to think I chose the belief because of the process of rationalizing the belief, which probably isn’t the reason I came to that belief, is associated with the origin of the belief in my mind. Now, it might be the case that Nas’ Illmatic is in fact the best rap album of all time, but that’s not really relevant here. What’s relevant is that this belief came about through processes I’m not conscious of at all and perhaps could never understand, so it couldn’t possibly be a choice. The rationalizations I come up with later, consciously, may have nothing whatsoever to do with the initial reason. But even if it did, there is no way for me to know this, at least not completely.

And while it’s important to be able to justify our beliefs and be open to allowing those beliefs to change (notice that this is, again, something that happens to us and not something we do) based upon further information and experience, we should be aware that this process is separate from how the belief came to exist in the first place. So, if we have free will and can choose the rational processes by which we justify our beliefs, because we don’t have access to the processes by which the belief formed, we can’t have chosen the belief.

 

OK dude, what’s your point?

Perhaps it is the case (and I’m not convinced of this yet, and therefore do not believe it, but it’s a compelling thought) that there is a correlation, and mayhap even a causal relationship, between the sensation of choosing a belief and the presence of cognitive dissonance. Therefore, the strength of the feeling of choosing a belief is a sign of the belief itself being in jeopardy.

If I hold a belief, but the evidence seems to contradict or at least challenge it, then as I think about the challenge I have to actively justify the belief. This may cause the sensation of choosing it because I’m being forced to justify my belief fresh, which feels like a choice. But, maybe, if the challenges to my belief result in no sensation of choosing the belief, this might be a sign that cognitive dissonance is not present, and maybe I’m not seeing any conflict with my belief at all.

It could also mean I’m dense, stubborn, or simply not understanding the counter-evidence, but I’m finding it compelling that there might be a relationship here, which I will have to give more thought to.

When a challenge comes to a core belief, such as the earth being relatively spherical, from (let’s say) a flat-Earth proponent, I certainly do have to bring to mind the justifications for my belief, but he feeling of choosing this belief is weak if not nonexistent in this case. The attempts at counter-arguments simply don’t have enough power to bring about the sensation of choosing to believe the earth is round, it’s just there, unperturbed.

But how about whether psychic ability is real? I’m convinced it’s not, and I belief it’s a fraud or a delusion when people claim it’s real, but there is a sensation of the belief being chosen as I really think about it. It’s not inherently impossible, after all. I could imagine ways it might happen, given the right kinds of biological hardware and processes. There is enough room for doubt, that as I think about it the sensation of choosing this belief is more present. But, again, this is the sensation of the justification process, not the origin of the belief. To touch the core belief, the evidence would have to be overwhelming and that, if it ever happened, would be the cause of a new belief (a belief in psychic abilities) which would be new and never completely understood, but only later justified.

So maybe we should keep in mind that the belief that belief is a choice is a sign of cognitive dissonance? Or at least a sign that the belief is being justifiably challenged?Maybe I should try to believe that, and see how well it pans out.

I don’t know, I’m not quite convinced, but it’s an interesting idea to keep in mind and pay attention to, going forward. If it were true that the feeling of choosing a belief were related to a belief being exposed, threatened, and potentially subject to replacement, then it might be worth paying more attention to when people claim they choose their beliefs as possibly more open to having their minds changed.

Then again, someone who says they choose their beliefs and who are also convinced that they cannot be wrong are probably not worth talking to. In other words, I should stay off of Facebook.

 

 


*One might be tempted to point out that this internal rational analysis is the point where one chooses to believe. But even if we accept that the rational analysis itself was chosen, the belief comes as a result of the analysis, automatically, based on the soundness of the analysis and your ability to understand it. If you think 1+1=2, and you understand what all those symbols/words mean, then you have no choice but to accept it as true. You don’t choose to believe 1+1=2, you become convinced by the meanings of the symbols and their relation to each other, regardless of whether you chose to think that specific analytical thought.

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Tribes and Worldviews: why I’m largely an outsider in today’s Progressive world September 11, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , , , ,
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Step right up! That’s right folks, step right up!

Have we got a deal for you! Today only, come get yourself some worldview! And if you get one today, we’ll throw in some values, causes, and issues free! No need to wonder why these free extras come along with your worldview today, just know that you aren’t being charged extra for them, and that if you don’t take them, the people around you will question whether you really are one of them!

OK…that’s a little too overt and heavy upon your head, I think. No subtlety or nuance here, so far. Let’s take a different approach….

 

Progressivism

I grew up in a progressive world, at least in terms of education. I went to, for 13 years, a Quaker school full of LGBT-friendly activists concerned with social justice and peace, where values such as compassion, tolerance, and diversity were held in great esteem. It was a good education, compared with many other schools, and it gave me values that are overall good, and I liked the Quakers. Mostly.

Part of my family is rather conservative, traditionalist, and even reactionary. My father would throw around the ‘N’ word as casually as I would throw around “fuck” or “the,” and I once made a joke at dinner (when I was an adult, mind you) that I couldn’t eat the ham because I had become a Muslim. My father’s reaction was quite serious and memorable; “No son of mine is becoming a Muzzie.”

This was a few years after 9/11 (fuck…that was 17 years ago, today), and he definitely identified with the pro-Bush (“Dubya”) camp, politically, and wanted to kill all of the Muslims and turn the deserts of the Middle East to glass, as I remember. At the time, all I could think was “Jesus, dad, you really don’t know me; I’m an atheist. I find Islam as silly as your Christianity, and would be very unlikely to become one”. In my world, being a Muslim wasn’t a bad, evil, scary thing, it was just another thing to be. For him, Islam was the enemy.

Neither my father nor I were going to become Muslims, but for quite different reasons; he was afraid of, and therefore hated, Muslims because they were a threat to his idea of a Christian America, and he saw this enmity as defending his traditional view of what that America was and is supposed to be. I, on the other hand, was a member of the early atheist community,* and my opposition to Islam was a mostly rational and educated opposition, rather than an emotional and jingoistic reaction to the presence of an alien religion attacking my tribe.

As the culture wars started to become further defined in the years that followed 9/11, how people saw Muslims became attached to a political identity. People on the political Right, the conservative and traditionalist people who are overwhelmingly Christian and often evangelical (think of the Battle Cry events, and similar proto-nationalist, Christian, and politically conservative events like it, that dominated the Bush years), started to oppose Islam, Mosques, and Muslims encroaching upon American culture and space. The rhetoric was of an invading culture, and the Right was opposed to it vehemently

On the other end of the spectrum, the Left started to take the opposite strategy, and started to defend Islam, and welcome the cultural change that involved more Muslims being welcomed into communities. The values here are the same as those I was raised with in my Quaker school upbringing; compassion, tolerance, and diversity. And, in at least one respect, these values are ones I share; I support the rights of Muslims to live in our culture just as much as I support Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or Pagans. That is, I recognize all of their rights to exist, legally, while I would very much prefer that they all become rationalists and atheists, because ultimately I think religion is not worth our time, as humans, and we should just leave all that behind as the toys of our species’ childhood.

Welcome

These signs are very common in progressive neighborhoods, in many parts of the United States

And this is where the problem begins, for me. The world I live within, specifically West Philadelphia, is one dominated by political Leftism, tolerance, compassion, and diversity. There is a strong sense of wanting to welcome people to their communities, whether they share their religious or ethnic backgrounds, where more conservative areas would be more likely to feel uncomfortable with people of color or minority religious traditions moving down the street.

This is just one of the many particular examples of how the differences in political worldview has real world consequences on how we feel about other people and their ideas, and usually you can tell someone’s political identity by how they would think about Muslims; either they are not comfortable or tolerant of them being neighbors, or they are welcoming. Because conclusions, opinions, and support for issues is largely an indicator of one’s identity or inclusion in a worldview, or the tribes which hold such worldviews.

But what happens when you disagree? What happens when you, for example, are uncomfortable with Muslims? Not because their religion is different from yours, but because they are part of a religion that has many problematic beliefs and traditions which are at odds with your values? What if you are uncomfortable with Muslims in the same way you are uncomfortable with people who still practice Catholicism, despite the fact that it has been shown, again and again, that the Catholic church is a criminal organization?

Well, that’s intolerance, right? It’s at odds with one of the fundamental progressive values, and it is too much like the intolerance, fear, and hate coming from the Right of the political spectrum. In other words, it doesn’t fit in with the worldview of most progressive people, so holding such opinions places you in a precarious position, politically and culturally.

Where does that leave you?

 

The Center

The problem with the tribalistic nature of worldviews and the cultures they create is that if you don’t belong in one place, you must belong somewhere else. For many skeptics, atheists, and other people who attempt to use rationality as the framework for making decisions, this leaves them in some middle ground, the political “center,” and you are stuck next to Sam Harris.

Now, don’t get me wrong; Sam Harris has some really interesting things to say about metaethics, and I am on board with how he talks about morality with his analogy of landscapes. When I first read The Moral Landscape, I found a strong argument that was very similar to how I viewed the problem of morality in a world arguing over whether morality was absolute, relative, or objective (no, objective and absolute are NOT the same thing, here). I recommend the book for anyone interested in the subject of ethics.

In fact, the distinctions between those who accept some authoritative moral framework (the Christian Right, for example), those who accept a relative framework wherein we need to tolerate different views are valid (the Progressive Left, for example) is a fair analogy for the Left/Right worldview split I was talking about above in some ways. And if one does not find either satisfactory or convincing, one is left with having to find an alternative. In the case of Sam Harris and myself, that takes the form of objective morality. In fact, watch Matt Dillahunty’s video (below) where he argues for the superiority of a secular (and in his case, objective) morality. Like Sam Harris, Matt and I are mostly eye-to-eye here, and it is a nuanced, middle, position between two views on morality I find equally problematic.

 

 

Just like how we view Muslims in America, how we view morality is largely attached to the political and cultural worldview we identify with. All too often I run into Leftists (which I largely am) who become infuriated or offended if I suggest that, for example, some cultures, religious views, or moral values are better than others. To ask a progressive-minded person if they thought that (for example) Islam might be a more problematic religious worldview than Buddhism, to answer yes would be tantamount to seem to agree with the “racist” and “intolerant” Right, and to be seen as having something in common with a political/cultural worldview they are opposed to. They might ultimately agree, but the suggestion is one met with resistance, in most cases.

This is why people like Sam Harris are seen as racist and conservative to people on the Left, and it is why Sam Harris will never think of himself as a Leftist, but rather a “classical liberal” (a term that means, for the Left, he’s actually just another racist and intolerant right winger). There is a disconnect on values, here, which makes Sam Harris not seem doctrinally pure enough to be part of the Leftist tribe, even where Sam Harris largely is a progressive (to be fair, he is resistant to what he calls “identity politics, which would place him more in the center, but he’s much closer to a progressive than a Republican and definitely not a Trump supporter). All it takes is to be critical in a way that alienates him from progressives for them to dismiss him as a racist and conservative, and thus ignored and ostracized by most people on the Left. Tribalism at work.

But these issues are not digital; One is not either completely accepting of Islam, Muslims, and all the cultural, historical, and ideological baggage that can be attached to those sets of worldviews or intolerant and hateful of them. There are nuances here, and in an age of Twitter, soundbites, and knee-jerk reactions to not being confused for the other side of whatever political spectrum you identify with, you are wise to be careful about expressing an opinion that doesn’t fit in with the worldview of those in your tribe. Better to stick to the party line, and keep up appearances.

It would not go over well, in a conversation in the back courtyard of Dahlak where everyone is an anarchist, progressive democrat, or radical waiting for the revolution to finally come, if you were to suggest that 9/11 happened (even if only in part) due to genuinely held religious beliefs consistent with a fair reading of the Koran and the Hadith. No, it was definitely American foreign policy, military action, and colonialism.  And this isn’t to say that people all over the world don’t have legitimate political grievances against the United States for decades of bad behavior which might cause people to want to retaliate militarily and with terrorism. But it is simultaneously true that Islam is a great ideological tool to implement such actions, and one could get from Koran to terrorism without any need for political grievances as an intermediary.

Yes, that last paragraph was inspired by a real conversation I had in exactly that space.  And yes, my interlocutor insisted that religion could have had nothing to do with 9/11, because Islam is a religion of peace, and it would be intolerant and racist to imply that Islam might be violent and dangerous as an ideology. He stuck to his guns, ran the party line, and maintained consistency with his worldview which values of compassion, tolerance, and diversity. Just not truth. It’s not like the guy ever read the Koran or studied the history of Islam, or anything, but he knew that conservative jingoists hate Islam and he’s not like them, so he has to accept Muslims as a non-problematic addition to the culture in which he lives, without sufficient criticism.

The Left is too afraid to be critical of religious and spiritual beliefs, where criticism is not only valid, but perhaps necessary.

 

Where do I belong?

My issue, here, is that I’m largely a progressive. If you sat me down with a bunch of Social Justice advocates who wanted a tolerant and diverse political and cultural society, I would get along with them and agree on many things, but I’d be at odds with them on some others. And I get myself in trouble when I disagree with some issue or position. Many rationalist and secular people find themselves in this position. I see people around me, politically, defending religious nonsense and even genuinely believing in paganism, tarot, or psychics. More and more, recently, I hear people talking about magic, reiki, and nature spirits in my progressive circles, and it’s becoming worrying to my skeptical heart and mind.

In some sense, I get it; it’s a reaction to the authoritarian and patriarchal religious identities of conservatives. Rather than a vengeful and authoritarian Jesus, we have the nature loving and progressive gods and goddesses of pagan lore (let’s ignore the fact that Islam’s Allah is a lot more like Yahweh/Jesus than those pagan artsy spirits). It fits with the political and cultural worldview better, but it does not fit my worldview at all. I’m left with the choice of a tribe who accepts that God is judging you or one that believes crystals or healing hands on your body might be able to heal cancer.

They are both laughably absurd, and I will not accept them as legitimate. I do recognize that they are equally protected under the law (at least in theory), so I definitely am closer to the Left than the Right here in terms of tolerating religious beliefs, where the right tends to defend the privileged status of Christianity, but it’s hardly an association I’m happy about.

Again, it all boils down to skepticism for me. We need to be able to not only challenge particular issues, beliefs, and people within our tribes and worldviews, but we need to be able to question the height of the pedestal we place our values upon. Values are good to have, but they are not absolute.

The Left has values, the right has values, everyone has values. And whether they are authority, purity, compassion, tolerance, diversity, etc, we all have these values to greater and lesser extents. In short, we value them to differing degrees. They are not worthy of worship or unquestionable, they are guidelines at best. Tolerance is a good value, but what are you tolerating, and why? How much do you know about the thing you are tolerating, and would there be a point where you would stop tolerating it?

Muslims are people. As such, they deserve legal protection, a willingness to hear their concerns and experiences, and the freedom to live their lives as they want to so long as they are not harming others. But we also need to be aware that there are many terrifying and dangerous ideas that are contained within the many ideologies called “Islam,” and insofar as people have those beliefs, their actions will be compelled accordingly. And similar to how many Christians oppose women’s right to choose how to live their lives and make decisions, gay rights, and many other progressive issues, Islam is no friend to many of those things in similar ways. We need to be as wary, as Progressives, of Islam as we are of Christianity.

The fact that Islam does not currently have political power here is a fair point, but if we actually seek to give Islam a seat at the cultural table, we need to be aware that if Muslims were to earn their legal right to that political power, the ideas they bring with them would be as problematic as those of Christianity or any other religion.

And if the Left, with it’s tolerance and practices of paganism, new age religion, Buddhism and all the other ideas that contain problematic views about reality, continues to not be skeptical about these things, then we will continue to live in a world where we’re forced to choose between anti-gay Jesus and vaccine-avoiding Progressive morons who will endanger us all by rejection of medicine, science, and reason.

I’ll end with an old favorite video, because it’s still relevant today.

 

More skeptical, rational, progressives please.

___

 

*this may have been before the various books were written and the community started to gain some traction, but my memory is not clear enough to remember precisely when this was. My guess is around 2005

Total Eclipse of the Heart August 21, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal, relationships.
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A year ago, today, I was in South Carolina to see the solar eclipse in its totality. I had travelled down there with a woman, Marilyn, I had decided was someone I wanted to spend my life with, and with whom I’d also travel, later that year, to Europe. The difference between then and today is as different as the illusion of daylight of one moment, and the eclipsing, surreal and beautiful, darkness which follows.

What happened?

If I were to accept the idea of karma, at least as it is poorly understood in our Western appropriation of the concept, I would think that I was experiencing the backlash of my own mistakes, hurled at me by a universe who needed me to learn how my own poor behavior made others feel. I would likely conclude that I deserved it, had it coming, and that perhaps the score was evened out a little bit.

But I don’t believe in any cosmic force of moral tit-for-tat, so I’m left to explore the lessons I should draw from this failed relationship without appeals to any supernatural or spiritual causation. And yet, I am left with the notion that my various mistakes in some of my previous relationships were more significant than I previous understood. Bottom line, I have been a dick on more than one occasion to people I cared about, and I have felt this more keenly in the last few months than I have previously.

So, in a sense, karma, if only metaphorically. And as I exit the mourning period of this loss, I am feeling philosophical, thoughtful, and regretful.

But that isn’t what this post is about; that’s merely the foundation upon which I wish to explore a set of ideas which I have been toiling over for quite a while, but which have taken on a new set of facets in recent months. Today, I want to explore self-righteousness, especially as it pertains to how we view people who have hurt us.

 

So, here’s a narrative for you to digest;

My ex, Marilyn, was abusive. She was sometimes extremely loving and affectionate, and often a lot of fun, but there was a pattern, a swinging pendulum, of behavior which left me feeling loved, happy, and hopeful some of the time, while other times I felt afraid to speak, felt the need to leave (which I did, once or twice), and the relationship was rocky, off and on, and in the end it was extremely painful when it ended.

Others (though not all) around me saw it. They tried to get me to see it, but I dismissed their warnings, and as a result 2 other relationships faltered. And, in the end, when it was all over, I was left to sort it out alone. And, having been mistreated, yelled at, lied to, and periodically pushed away and pulled back, it was very easy to have a sense of being the victim. She was an asshole, and I dodged a bullet I would say. I could walk away feeling good about myself and move on to someone better, knowing that I’m in the right, this time. In other words, my friends and those who heard my side of the story would have supported me in feeling self-righteous.

And they would have been wrong in doing so, because self-righteousness is nothing but a function of a combination of myopia and tribalism–which is itself a from of collective myopia.

The above narrative, which I held onto for too long, was nonsense because even if it is the case that she was abusive (and I believe she was), it is also the case that she was in pain, afraid, and lashed out due to trauma from things that I could never hope to understand nor do anything about. And I, knowing this, kept coming back to her knowing that this pain was causing her to keep me at a distance. It didn’t matter that I was not the one who hurt her. It doesn’t matter that she was the one who kept reaching out to me when she needed to take her time to deal with those things, probably alone, because I knew that she needed that time and I kept coming back because I loved her and wanted to be with her. I was being selfish, irrational, and I made poor decisions (hey, it’s what I do…).

The failure of the relationship was both of our faults. We’re both hurt by each other, we both made mistakes, and the fact that one of us might share the greater share of the blame this time is not especially relevant or interesting unless me and my friends (or she and hers) are trying to rationalize who should feel like they are in the right.

And yet, for a while, I did feel self-righteous, and my friends agreed that I was the one who was the victim, in this case. Of course they do, because that’s what friends are for, right? Perhaps, but I want to set a higher standard in my life, and I want to actually figure out what’s true, and not what’s merely comforting to me and my tribes. And the truth is that she has reason to be angry and hurt with me and I have reason to feel hurt. The calculation of relative blame is sort of pointless, and is too prone to subjective narratives, myopia, tribalism, and re-writing memories to be worth-while.

I’m fairly sure that something similar is happening on her end, with her friends. I’m sure I’m the awful ex who she’s glad she got rid of. It’s a useful narrative which we all use to be able to vent, feel good about ourselves, and move on to something better. But much of this process is a lie, and even while I’m doing it, I know it’s a lie. But I do it anyway, and in time the lie becomes the truth, unless we are willing to be more honest. But, as I like to say, we don’t get to have our own truth; there is only the truth, and the convenient lies we tell ourselves to make us feel better (whether it’s gods, our own self-righteousness, etc).

This pattern of narrative-creation is true on a larger scale, as well. Every group I have belonged to, when rifts emerge, becomes tribalistic and becomes completely unable to see the mistakes and shortcomings of the people they ally with. I’ll bet that someone you love and respect, in whatever community to which you belong, is right now being unfairly awful to someone else (perhaps someone you dislike), because they are on the wrong side of some rift or disagreement. I’ll bet you aren’t especially bothered by that. I’ll bet sometimes you cheer them on, and like their scathing comments. For a while, most of the leadership of the local Poly facebook group was doing precisely this, and they had all kinds of cheerleaders. It was ugly, and it made me feel disgusted and unwelcome.

This is the world we live in now, and it’s getting worse.

How about politics? Many people who voted for Hillary Clinton, especially in a state like PA who ended up being close in 2016, thinks all the Jill Stein voters are idiots and awful. Many of the Jill Stein voters think the same of those who they often call “Hill-bots.” Many have not-so-nice things to say about “Bernie-bros,” and I’ve had some pretty awful things to say about “Trumpists,” myself. Trump voters hate the elitist liberals, As do many anarchists and Communists, who similarly tend to hate Clinton, and it goes on and on.

This is not to say that people don’t often have good reason to feel the ways they do, in these cases. In fact, that is precisely the point; they all do have reasons to feel the way they do. Because in every group, every walk of life, every political party, every clique, etc there are people. I was tempted to say that there are assholes, but the fact is that this is all too normal to frame it that way.

I’m guilty of this, you are guilty of this, your best friend is guilty of this, and your current partner(s) are all guilty of this. We all do it. The problem is that we keep excusing it. My friends excuse me blaming Marilyn for her bad behavior, and when I was calling her an asshole, they patted me on the back, and were like “yup, she was.” She probably vented to some of her friends after we broke up, and they said the same about me. Who’s right? Who cares.

I think that we need to take a hard look at ourselves, and make a distinction between trying to honestly evaluate what happened, what is our responsibility, and what we need to learn and making this about a judgment of a person’s moral and social worth. Also, we need to try to look past the lens and filter of our tribes (friend groups), and try to see why those people over there (the other people) are giving emotional support for the people who hurt us, with whom we disagree, or who actually did something easily identifiable as wrong.

It’s all to easy to dismiss people, and I’m going to continue to try to resist this impulse for the people who have hurt me. Instead, I’m going to aim for the truth, at least as best as I can see it. Marilyn was a lovely human being who was hurting, but I was not as good a partner as I could have been in order to be who she needed while she was hurting. Her patterns of behavior were, at times, abusive. But so were mine in more times than I would prefer to admit. A year ago today, we were happy, in love, and we spent a lovely day together. But I erred in the latter stages of the relationship, and because of that she has decided she doesn’t want to hear from me anymore. If we were to have an omniscient judge to declare who was more right or more at fault, who would it be? I don’t care.

Well, more precisely, I do care, but it is this caring which is the source of the problem. I need to be less yanked around by the fears, hurt, and anger at the foundation of this caring who is right, and more concerned with the truth of what I can do, now, to do better next time.

Once I fully heal from the pain that this loss has cost me, I have to take the lessons that are real, and not the ones which make me feel, and look, better.

 

 

Once upon a time, I wrote for a blog… August 20, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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And then life happened.

I decided I should start writing again. And I’ve decided to make some changes to the blog. From here on out, I will not be perpetuating any of the previous silliness about silly people, as I have long moved on from that part of my life, and am in a far better place. This paragraph will be the last I make reference to any of that, on this blog.

So, if any of you are still reading this blog (and I wouldn’t blame you if you do not), going forward this will largely just be a space to sort out thoughts that I’m having while reading, thinking about issues I find interesting, or sorting out my continuing thoughts about the nature of religion, sexuality, and critical thinking in a world that is still pretty shitty.

And I’m quite aware that I’m just some over-privileged white, cis, hetero male in a culture that is increasingly focused on the voices of the marginalized. And to that I say, well, good!. I am glad those voices are focused on more. I’m glad that small, incremental changes are happening is some places, and am saddened that the skeptic/atheist world has been overtaken by so many awful people opposed to the world becoming more diverse and critical of privilege. People such as the “Sargon of Akkad,” Some “Amazing Atheist,” and “Thunderf00t” (among many others) are, frankly, just awful human beings not really worth listening to, anymore. If they are your people, then kindly go elsewhere.

But this will be my space, and I will not shy away from my own thoughts, and nobody has to read it. Frankly, I’m doing this more as an outlet for myself than for any readers. That said, if you are reading this, welcome, and feel free to comment, share, or navigate elsewhere per your preferences.

For anyone who used to read my blog and has come back, I’ll provide you with the briefest of update as to what I’m up to:

I live in West Philly, alone, with my two cockatiels, and I work at Penn Medicine as a System Administrator (running some software called Maximo and building intranet sites). I’m currently single, as of recently, and am dating. Not currently seeking a polyamorous partner, per se.

I’ve been playing guitar more in the last couple of years, and bought 2 more of them (for a total of 3), and have been known to sit on the porch and play with some neighbors or friends. I continue to expand my experience with music via Spotify, where I try to listen to new music and continue to discover bands I’ve missed over the years.

I have done a lot of travelling in the last year or so, and plan to do more travelling going forward. I’m mostly off of Facebook, occasionally tweet a thought, but my Instagram (@ShaunPhilly) is pretty active. I read a lot, I walk a lot, and still like to grab a beer in the evening (usually with a book) and listen to one of the many podcasts I subscribe to (and, in many cases, support on Patreon.com. Favorites include On the Media, The Scathing Atheist, Cognitive Dissonance, and (of course) Hardcore History.

Still an atheist. I argue with people less, as I find it largely a waste of time. I am more prone to the methods of the various people who have been doing street epistemology in recent years, although I will leave it to them, as I’m pretty much done with debating people at this point. I’m more interested in enjoying my life than trying to convince other people of anything, anymore.

So, what will this blog be? Well, I suppose it will just be my own personal mental masturbation gymnasium.  If that’s your kink, then have a seat.

Later

 

The tendrils run deep. February 26, 2018

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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And, so here we are, again. Hey, remember 4 years ago? The mess with a former polycule to which I belonged? Yeah, I try not to think about it either.

But, well…..

I became aware, recently, that Wes Fenza has not slithered off into the netherworld from which he was spawned, and is once again trying to become active in the non-monogamous world, taking over for another predator within a nonprophet for geeks, or someshit.

Listen….I’d be more than happy to let all this shit behind me, and not post things like this. But Wes is unrepentant, and he does not appear to have changed or even care about changing. If he had appeared to do some personal work to improve himself, I’d at least be willing to remain neutral, or at least quiet.

I have done personal work to overcome my flaws, and I am a quite different person than I was 4 years ago. Nothing he could say about my past can hurt me, anymore. I have transcended that shitty period of my life and become a better person. Can Wes say the same? Not that I have heard.

Source

Be careful out there.

The Year of Traveling November 30, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Personal.
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This has not been a year I’ve written very much, and yet a lot has happened. 2017 was the year of traveling, for me. Today, I’m not going to get philosophical or anything. Today I’m just going to talk about the places I’ve seen this year, and share some pictures.

I wrote about going on the road earlier this year. This Spring, I found out that the job I had been working at was downsizing, and the office was being shut down. I was the Sr. technician on site, and I had only been there about a year, and suddenly I found myself looking at having to find new work. So, with an upcoming severance package, I decided to take a road trip. And so I did that.

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Atop Green Mountain, Colorado. Looking down on Black Canyon

I hit the road at the end of June, and had no specific plan. I had camping gear in the back, food in a cooler, and my Prius on a blacktop of potential. I went to lots of places, but I spent the most time in Colorado. The photo above was from a very long clime in Gunnison National Park, in the Western part of Colorado where I spent most of my time. It’s about 8500 feet above sea level, and also quite high from the floor of the canyon in the distance. I sat up there for a long time, and just watched and felt genuinely glad to be alive.

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Me, in Salt Lake City, unshaken after camping in Colorado

It was astoundingly beautiful, and only one of many places I saw on my road trip. I saw Cleveland and Vermilion Ohio, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, camped in Oklahoma, drove through Kansas (where I saw a giant replica of a Van Gogh painting, standing around 50 feet tall), Couchsurfed and camped in Colorado, had a drink in Salt Lake City (where I also saw the Temple Square), stayed in San Fransisco and Portland Oregon, and came back through Idaho (Boise was great, and has a lot of Basque influence on food and culture there), Omaha (Nebraska is beautiful), Kansas City (where I may or may not have met a nice girl on Tinder where I found a place to crash for the night), then back home. I saw many more places in between, and am so very glad that I saw them all, and feel like I have a better feel for the immense size and beauty of this country. Colorado was my favorite, by far, but my friend (who I used to babysit when he was a child) introduced my to his wonderful hippie community in Portland, where I helped repaint some street murals and played guitar and drank beer until late into the night with his friends.

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Marilyn with some friends from grad school, in North Carolina, where we stopped along the way to SC.

Then, after I returned home, there was the eclipse. I took my partner, Marilyn, down to South Carolina with me, and we camped in the path of totality, and it was astounding. The camp ground was so overbooked, that they started renting out parts of the lawn and grassy areas next to the road to people to set up camp. And so with a fire pit, lots of beer, some people from Georgia and South Carolina as neighbors, we partied for 2 nights and watched an eclipse which was much more amazing than I thought it would be.

None of the pictures I took did it justice, unfortunately. But (as you can see) I did take pictures this summer, and the one below is my favorite of all of them.

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Copan Lake, Oklahoma.

This was next to Copan Lake, in Oklahoma, near a little town called Dewey, where I had a wonderful lunch and talked with some lovely locals who owned a cafe/bar/theater where they hosted some interesting shows and movies. I have many pictures of the sunset from that evening, many which I thought of sharing here, but this tree, on the way back to my campsite, caught my eye and it ended up being my favorite picture from the summer.

 

Home. Moving. Planes.

I was gone from Philadelphia for three weeks, and was glad to be home. Then, I moved to to my new apartment on Baltimore Ave. Living alone, for the first time ever, with my birds, my guitars, and my many books. But I would have to wait to unpack, because my traveling was not yet over. Having moved my stuff in, and gotten a few things unpacked, it was time to get on a plane.

I thought I had been traveled out after my road trip and seeing the eclipse in South Carolina, but then Marilyn had a business conference she had to go to, and invited me to meet her in Vienna. I decided to fly to Prague, spend a few days there while she was at her conference, and spend the weekend with her in Vienna. All I can say is that I absolutely loved Prague, and would recommend it to anyone who likes old European cities with lots of history, and also likes beer and amazing food. I love me some Goulash!

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Prague, from a lookout tower west of the old town

I walked for hours in Prague and Vienna. In Prague, I discovered a Belgian beer bar that, when I arrived, was having an anniversary party with of the of the Belgian brewers (from Gulden Draak, specifically) there helping celebrate the bar’s anniversary. I found some Americans in a place called the Prague Beer Museum (a pub, really), where we attempted to talk with two guys from Ukraine via Google translate, because they only spoke Russian. I had a drink at Hemmingway’s while in Prague, on the recommendation of someone who I thanked immediately, because the cocktails were great. There was also a Sex machine museum, which was fascinating. I have many pictures I want to share from there, but here’s my favorite:

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Yes, that’s one sexy bear.

In Vienna, Marilyn and I ate Schnitzel and spätzle while drinking very good beer while I tried to remember how to speak German. We saw the Jewish museum, which had exhibits about the history of Jewish culture, persecution, and influence on the local business culture of Vienna over the many centuries. The natural history museum there is astoundingly large, and makes the Smithsonian look tiny in comparison. We could not see all of it, in the few hours we were there. I played a little Ingress in both towns, because uniques are a thing, but I was much more interested in looking around, than down at a phone.

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Marilyn gets her first corset at the Ren Faire

Back here, in Philadelphia, there was protesting (because our president, and the awful people who are in control around him are doing awful things), seeing friends (my friend bought a big house in South Philly, near the Italian market), bike rides (they’re just great), and the Renaissance Faire (kilt’s are necessary, of course) among many other things. There are new and ongoing relationships with the lovely people in my life, and there are, of course, birds chirping contentedly behind me as I write at my desk.

Most importantly this year, there is a sense of all the shit of a few years ago being healed, even if not forgotten. The last year or so has been full of nights without nightmares, constant emotional turmoil, or even thinking about those things the vast majority of the time.

I am, without a doubt, happier, healthier, and more confident in myself, life, and my personal future than I have even been at any point in my life. Trauma and pain have a way of healing and teaching, and I am not only a better person for having lived through it and also having learned from my own mistakes, but I have a greater perspective from which to see the world around me clearer.

Life, in short, is good. And I’m happy. How was your 2017, so far?

Philosophical rifts are to be expected November 15, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
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Way back in 2002, I was in grad school, in West Chester University and saw some flier about a 10 Commandments plaque that had been on the local courthouse for many years, and some local atheists were making a stink about it. So I attended a meeting related to that, and met some local atheist activists and started learning about the atheist community. This was in the early days of the post-9/11 atheist community expansion, but before any of the major atheist books were published or the community took off in size and scope. And it was long before the rifts became apparent to us all. They were there, of course, but they had not yet become flaming internet arguments and YouTube channels raking in money for…well not all of them are terrible human beings.

Having a lack of belief in any gods, or being convinced that no gods exist (the difference of which is actually a minor philosophical rift in itself) is a pretty specific and singular data point of who a person is, and so knowing this about a person will not tell you very much else, if anything at all. PZ Myers has been arguing for years that such a worldview should lead one to a progressive worldview. And while I might agree with many of his progressive worldviews, I don’t agree that one must necessarily reach those positions, logically, from the starting point of atheism, per se.*

 

 

The cultural divide becomes polyamorous, and takes on the polyamorous community as a new partner

If you look at the atheist world today, you will find a myriad of political views, opinions about feminism, and both wonderful and awful people. There are people I tend to agree with, people with whom I may share almost no conclusion except for the lack of gods, and there are people with whom I have much in common, but disagree on small points, or on certain issues. The rifts which have occurred over the years have led to situations where some people simply cannot talk to certain people, because of vast differences in opinions. In some cases, I think the nature of the disagreement is important, in others, it’s mostly hot air and emotion preventing an actual conversation. Such is life as a human being on planet Earth.

So, will you be surprised when I point out that I’ve seen much of the same phenomena within the polyamory community? No, I don’t think you will be that surprised.

But, before I go there, I want to take a step back because I don’t think that the analogy of the atheist community maps all that precisely to the poly community itself. Rather, I think that the atheist community is a better analog for the non-monogamous world in general; some people have come to the conclusion that monogamy (more specifically, sexually/romantically exclusive relationships, since monogamy is not quite the right word. monoamory works, in some cases) is not the best way to go about relationships the way atheists have come to the conclusion that god is not real, or at least that they are not convinced that it is real.

In the atheist community, there are more traditionalist/conservative people who tend towards libertarianism, Trumpism, and are opposed to much of the feminist movement as it currently exists; mostly the “shitlords” with whom I share almost no philosophical worldview (I qualify that because inevitably some shitlord would see this and point out that we might share some opinions here and there, which would be technically true but missing the point, completely). There are also many liberal, progressive, or even downright anarchistic revolutionary people in the atheist community; people with whom I share many more data points with, philosophically. But the fact is that I’m not tied to any specific ideology, so even though I overwhelmingly agree with the more leftist, progressive worldview, there are places where I disagree on some points, even if I accept the general schema of the worldview of the progressive movement concerned with social justice and so forth. To be clear, I am not identifying with the centrists, a la Sam Harris (whose podcast I listen to, because he has interesting conversations, even if I agree with him only about half the time at best. I don’t agree that he’s especially racist, except in the technically true sense that we all participate in a racist culture to some extent). I’m definitely very far left, and the shitlords could call me a SJW if they like, but I disagree with many other social justice oriented people on some points related to the worldview, even if I accept the general schema.

The non-monogamy world, including swingers, poly folks, etc, are similarly all over the map. In general, swingers tend towards more traditionalist/conservatism. In fact, the swinging world is itself an extension of a kind of conservatism insofar as the environment is overwhelmingly couple-centric, often unfriendly towards male bisexuality, and often unwelcoming to trans people. Swingers may, individually, be OK with these things in theory, but they still tend to be much more comfortable with staying within their rules which defend a more conservative worldview about relationships and identity. Poly people tend towards the progressive side, and are generally much more open to all shades of the LGBTQ rainbow. A focus on listening to marginalized people, consent culture, and a plethora of discussions of all sorts of things which will expand your mind and worldview exist at polyamorous conferences, and I would highly recommend what the poly community has to teach to all people, and support the vast majority of the lessons they have to teach. In short, the communities to which I belong tend to be made up of people who have overwhelming support for progressive values and politics. The shitlords would certainly call it a den of SJW cucks, or some other myopic prattling.

But within polyamory, there are definitely rifts and disagreements, which is similar, in many ways, to the arguments going on in the progressive world in general. That is, even among the idealistic, Relationship Anarchistic, touchy-feely, progressive group of people, there are differences in opinion on many questions. Let’s take one example, shall we?

 

“Poly” is not cultural appropriation

About a year ago, there was a bunch of conversations about the term Polyamory being abbreviated to “poly,” and whether it was a cultural appropriation from Polynesian people, who apparently sometimes call themselves “Poly.” Now, I won’t get into the minutia of the arguments, but the gist was that if we want to be sensitive towards people who have been historically treated pretty badly, perhaps we should not use the same term; we should not appropriate the term. Now, I agree with the first part; we should be aware of such things and seek to do less harm, when possible. We need to be aware of the effects of history and try to be aware of how we use language, borrow from cultures, etc to make sure that we are not doing it in an unnecessary and offensive way. But I came down on the other side of this argument; I do not think that using “poly” for the polyamorous community is a form of cultural appropriation from Polynesian people, and so I still use “poly”, rather than “polya,” which has been adopted by some people recently. I’m not against doing so, I just think that it’s not based on sound reasoning. In other words, I came to a different conclusion.

I’m not insisting that people say “poly” instead of “polya”, but I do sort of roll my eyes a little when I read “polya,” because I believe that the argument for doing so is nonsensical, even if I agree with the sentiment.

Here’s the thing; I’m a skeptic first. I want to have as many true beliefs, and as few false beliefs, as I am able to have given my cognitive abilities. In short, I care what’s actually true, and I try to use logical and rational means towards figuring out what is true. I also care about justice, but I will not sacrifice the truth on the alter of avoiding offense. I will not offend intentionally (at least, I try not to), but there simply are times when the truth might be offensive or not in line with a desire to be culturally sensitive. In this case, the argument for using “polya” is a bad argument. So even if the intent is to be aware, sensitive, and non-offensive (which I think is a good thing), the argument that it actually is appropriation falls flat. That is, the argument is not true. The fact that somebody is offended by the term “poly” in a polyamorous context is unfortunate, and their feelings are still valid. The thing is, their argument isn’t valid. One can be offended, have that emotion be legitimate and important, but still be wrong.

Others disagree with me, of course. But I’m not convinced by their arguments. The problem came in when it’s pointed out that my argument is coming from a place of privilege, where my attempts to be rational about the question at hand are a function of that privilege. And yes, I am privileged. Over the last several years, I have been listening. I have learned quite a bit about how privilege works, and have come to recognize that it’s a real force in the world, with real effects. I believe that people have a range of privileges, dependent upon historical, cultural, etc factors which make certain things much easier for people like me. I understand that there are things which are much harder for me to understand, and that I have to listen first, especially when talking about an issue related to historical, cultural, or political marginalization. That is my responsibility. But that does not erase rationality. A rational argument is not subject to privilege. Rational arguments, skepticism, and logic transcend social justice concerns. A person can be privileged, use motivated reasoning (*cough cough* Sam Harris *cough cough*), and thus make mistakes in utilizing reason, but reason itself is not subject to the effects of the theory behind privilege.

Thus, in terms of answering the question whether “poly” is cultural appropriation, if the argument for it being so is nonsensical, then all the concerns about cultural sensitivity and historical/cultural structures become irrelevant. They are still relevant when discussing the Polynesian people in terms of their cultural circumstances, of course. And, of course, if the arguments in favor of calling such a use of “poly” were not nonsensical or logically flawed, then it becomes relevant to discuss whether the appropriation is problematic or not. As it stands, I’m convinced that the arguments are nonsensical. If someone disagrees, they need to address the logical concerns first, if they want to be taken seriously.

 

How long does one need to listen, before their questions become relevant?

Over the last few years, a question kept swimming to the surface as I thought about things related to social justice, privilege, etc. In the beginning I saw this question as a internal emotional reaction against the information; as a emotional reaction more than an actual philosophical problem. For a long time I dismissed it as a side-effect of privilege and part of the very problem I was trying to learn and understand, so I didn’t follow it to any conclusion. I was still listening, and the listening will never stop. But after a while this question persisted, and so I kept reading, listening, and hoping to find this issue addressed in a way which satisfied the question, but no answer ever satisfied me. Further, I found no way to voice this question because the question is always reacted to with dismissal and often with anger (No, I’m not tone-policing; I have no issue with the anger per se). I became terrified to ask about it, because every time I saw anything like it broached it was met with dismissal, hostility, and was never seriously addressed. The question is something like the following:

If privilege is a blinding force, which prevents those with it to see certain things about culture, in particular people’s lived experience, to what extent is this blinding force merely an obstacle or an impenetrable barrier? In other words, does ones privilege merely make it much harder to understand a set of ideas, born of a marginalized or non-privileged experience, or is it one of complete obscurity, such that the privileged person can never hope to understand or have anything to add at all?

And as I started to think more about this, the question began to have subsequential concerns and questions, which I was similarly afraid to voice in social justice circles. Because if privilege merely makes it harder to see parts of the world, that would imply that if one listens enough and comes to understand, then it is possible to come to a rational conclusion that may or may not be the same as the person who is marginalized, no? In other words, it might be possible to, from the point of view of one who is privileged, disagree with someone’s opinion who is marginalized, and still potentially be factually right. Because it’s possible that any person, in any set of circumstances, might be wrong. That’s part of being human.

If a Polynesian person, or someone on their behalf, is offended by the use of “poly” by the polyamorous community, their feelings are important and valid. We should be kind to them, and we should hear them, and we should do our best to understand where that pain is coming from and seek to minimize it as much as we can. But, again, if someone listens and comes to a different conclusion because they think that the arguments in favor of it being problematic don’t add up, or if there is no argument at all, but merely a focus on the offense, then what is a person supposed to do? Is it really wrong to have a different conclusion? Is it wrong to say so? And if so, why?

And this is where the “red-pilled” shitlord comes in and says “Exactly! The SJW cucks are all a bunch of groupthink sheeple who insist upon allegiance to feelings and will insist upon ideological purity over the truth.”. And this is the part where I tell that shitlord to go fuck themselves and find something else to do, because I’m not talking to them right now and I’m certainly not taking their red pill.

Because I’m not throwing out the larger theory by disagreeing here. Disagreeing with a conclusion or a small detail of the theory is not the same as disavowing the whole left, progressivism, or social justice. In fact, such disagreements and questions are the only way to keep those theories strong, vibrant, and not dogmatic. The dogmatism that the idiots who call us SJWs, talk about being “red-pilled, and who troll all over the internet is based upon this dismissal of any questions from people who are not convinced, either in whole or in part. No doubt potential allies who accept most of the worldview concerned with justice in society have been pushed towards the red pill (because tribalism is often dualistic) because they disagreed with some small bits here and there and were dismissed. Erased. Sound familiar?

 

Skepticism to the rescue, I hope

I do share one thing with those red pill people; I care about what’s true. Well, they say that they care about that, but I don’t think their application of reason is very good at all. It’s true that many shitlords, anti-feminists, and other anti social justice people grew out of skepticism. But was their skepticism properly applied in all of their opinions? I would say most certainly not. It seems to me that the anti-feminist, pro-Trump, sexual abuse “skeptics” (there are so many kinds of shitlords) on the right are holding onto notions of human rights, consent (or lack thereof), and freedom of speech which are overly tied to tradition, misunderstandings, or (in some cases) obvious trolling and lying to manipulate towards their own goals (I’m looking at you, Scott Adams)**. Some who have been red-pilled might share more opinions with their cultural interlocutors (he says euphemistically) than either side would want to admit. The tribalism at the core of this divide is obvious to me, and is actually the fault of people on both sides. I believe that one side’s worldview is generally correct, and the other is problematic, but individual people on both sides, or caught in the middle, are all over the map in terms of their specific responsibility for being decent skeptics.

So, right off the bat here, skepticism as a community is not the best example of where to turn, and being overly “skeptical” in the face of allegations of sexual misconduct is technically skepticism, but it’s also technically being completely clueless about the realities of how our culture teaches us to interact when it comes to sexuality in our culture. Or maybe it’s just that those people want to keep having the excuse to not ask for or be concerned with consent. I did hear one guy say, in response to hearing that situations such as being intoxicated, in a position of relative powerlessness (like being an employee), etc as a circumstance where consent might not be fully possible, that if that were so then he might never be able to have sex with that woman he wants to have sex with. No shit, asshole, but you’re really missing the boat here. Social justice theories about privilege, consent, power structures, and so forth are something you really need to understand, because they are real. Holding onto traditional ideas because they work for you (privilege) is a shitty way to be skeptical.

I think that social justice theories are wonderful at making important cultural, political, and historical observations, and it’s a wonderful method for understanding how various personal identities effect power structures, but it is not the best method for determining what is actually true, philosophically, in every situation. Reason, wielded by skepticism, is the best method we have for determining truth, and where social justice theories of privilege conflict with reason, we need to value reason first. That is how I rank my values, and I understand that other people do not do this, especially many people working for social justice. I simply disagree with this approach.

And I’ll be clear, I think that a social justice set of theories armed with skepticism would be a powerful tool, the problem is that not all social justice activists are always clear thinkers, and (because they are human) therefore make errors in thinking and come to bad conclusions, sometimes. And, again, while our feelings are immensely important, and things like micro-aggression, racism, sexism, transphobia, body shaming, etc are all things that actual people live through and have legitimate feelings about, in the cases where their conclusions are not rational, we should feel free and comfortable to express this when and in the space in which that person is willing to hear it. 

The problem is that I rarely feel free or welcome to do so, and am am merely dismissed as being privileged. There needs to be room, sometimes, for marginalized people to hear this criticism. I know, I know…that space for criticism is the dominant narrative, right? But, is it? Are you really going to try to argue that the dominant narrative of our culture is reason and skepticism, properly applied? I’m not talking about listening to privileged people, because I know you already understand their perspective pretty well. I’m talking about when a privileged person, who has been listening, and who cares about the truth and who has tried hard to understand but has a question, a criticism, or a disagreement and they are dismissed merely because they are privileged. That is not rational.

Maybe that person is wrong, and maybe they’ll change their mind, but we, as human beings, need more than your experience, at some point in the process of listening. We need actual arguments, and sometimes the arguments you have are not sufficient because sometimes even marginalized people make errors in judgment and thinking. Those arguments don’t have to be on the terms of the person asking, and they don’t have to invade the spaces you make for yourself to feel safe (I, for example, am writing this on my own blog), but philosophical conclusions cannot be merely asserted in the name of lived experience, because there is no “my truth” or “your truth”; there is only truth, and we all have it and miss it’s mark on the merits of our arguments. I’ll take your word on your experience, and your feelings, but your philosophical conclusions are everyone’s territory, because you’ve left the realm of experience, and are claiming something to be true. So if someone in your community disagrees with your conclusion, you cannot merely play the privilege card against a genuine disagreement because reason transcends that theoretical concept.

My point is that there needs to be room for disagreement within our communities, whether poly, atheist, or whatever, because truth is the realm of philosophy and is not subject to theories dependent upon historical or cultural realities. If someone does the work, listens, and tries to understand but simply comes to a different conclusion, the response has to be better than something like the following;

Of course you disagree. You’re speaking from the most privileged position of anyone here. You’ve got a personal investment in being able to look down, talk down, and still deem yourself as logical and correct. It’s a matter of perspective and you’ve got it.

Because that’s not an argument. That’s merely dismissal. We must do better, if we want to be role models.

 

No, I don’t have any answers which cannot change

The bottom line is that I don’t have answers to my questions, yet. I may never have them. But I will not merely conform and agree, because I’m supposed to. I cannot choose my beliefs, because they will form themselves in my mind based upon the strength of argument made in their favor. If I disagree with you, then it might be the case that I’m missing something, and I’ll keep doing my work to see if that’s the case. But if I’ve had the same nagging question and concern with some specific aspects of the worldview you espouse after several years of attempting to understand, then at some point the responsibility becomes less mine, and more yours to have better explanations.

Perhaps my point of view occasionally allows me to see something that you cannot see, even if only extremely rarely. I admit that it’s quite possible I’m completely wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. But so far I disagree with many people in the progressive community concerning specific beliefs and details of the worldview we generally share. But I need to feel free to have these disagreements without being dismissed and erased. Perhaps that’s something I learned, initially, from you. Perhaps you need to listen sometimes, as well.

 

 

So, thanks for reading, those of you who used to be friends (perhaps as of this reading. I’ve already lost FB friends recently articulating similar points in comments sections), those of you who might agree or disagree but are ambivalent towards me specifically, or people who agree with me here (I’ve heard from some people in the poly community the last few days who might agree with much of what I’ve said here. No, none of them were also white, hetero, cis men). Something finally compelled me to write after some time. If you disagree with me and feel like dismissing me because of my privilege, then I guess we’re at an impasse.

*Skepticism might, in itself, have more logically derived conclusions, but that’s a conversation for another day

**Listen to the podcast episode at this link only if you really feel like yelling at your earbuds a lot

 

 

Going cross-country this Summer April 26, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I cannot stop thinking about driving.

I’m taking a vacation this summer. There are places I have not been, and places in between that yearn for the attention of my curiosity. The small towns, the scenic views, the empty and quiet spaces between civilizations.

I was going to go to Bruge, Belgium, this year. I like old cities with history and culture. And beer, of course. But as I started to think more about it, I realized that I do not know this country, the one I grew up in, very well.

There are these maps people have created, showing how The United States of America is more like a quilt of different cultures and nations, and that one can often tell stark differences between someone who was raised in the Midwest, the South, or the Eastern Seaboard (for example). Also, the differences between the cities and the country reveal another way to divide us, we Americans, into different people.

And so I thought that maybe I’d fly out to Chicago, San Francisco, or maybe even Toronto to see another part of the world, and then slowly it became clear to me that this would be missing too much, and possibly missing the point.

I love cities. I love just dropping into a city with no plan of where to go, what to see, or even where to sleep. I did that in Edinburgh and London, and had a lovely time in each. And so I planned, several months back, to go to Bruge and do the same. sure, I’d probably take a train over to Brussels or Amsterdam while there, but I just wanted to wander around and take in the city. This is my favorite way to vacation. No plan, just pure spontaneity.

But what about all the places in between? What about the mountains, the slowly changing landscape, and the anticipation as you watch the world transform from field to town to field to suburb and to city, over and over again. What does the rest of the country look like? Seeing the USA this way would be like visiting Philadelphia and just taking buses from tourist location to another tourist location; you don’t actually get to know the city the way you would if you walked around.

So I’ll drive around, given that walking to San Francisco is a bit of a hike. And driving around the country is analogously similar to walking around a city, I feel. And I’ve done similar trips, before.

I’ve seen a lot of the South. Took a two-week road trip that ended up in Austin, Texas years ago. I saw Atlanta (in which I later lived), New Orleans, Memphis, Johnson City and dozens of places in between. I got to see a part if the country that was in many ways foreign to me, along the way.

But I’ve never been to Chicago, or St. Louis, or San Francisco. I have always wanted to visit Vancouver. And so this summer, I may see all these places, and all the spaces in between.

Shortly after Independence Day, I will depart Philadelphia and start driving West. I don’t know the exact route, where I’ll stop, or how long I’ll stay in any of the places. I don’t know who I’ll meet (although I have some idea, especially in a couple of places). I am not even completely sure I’ll make it all the way to San Francisco. The point is that I’m just going, and I will keep going until I don’t want to go anymore.

I’ll probably come back. I mean, I have an apartment, friends, and family here. But there’s no guarantee that I will. The point of the trip is to just go. I will be freshly 40 years old, and there is too much of the country I’ve not seen, and this is the best opportunity that I will have to see it all while I’m young(ish), healthy, and I have the money to afford the trip. And, of course, I’ll post updates and pictures, both here and Facebook.

Maybe I’ll come to your town. If it’s between here and San Francisco, it’s quite possible.

The Con of Trumpism: Fake News and Skepticism February 2, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Skepticism and atheism.
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So, I feel silly even writing this. Honestly, I don’t think any of my readers are likely to be people susceptible to the fake news phenomenon anyway, but sometimes when you have a thing to say, as a writer, it just feels better to articulate the thought.

Thesis: The acceptance of fake news, and alt-facts in general, is the result of poor understanding of epistemology, good journalism, and of skeptical methods of determining truth. The larger philosophical goals of people who identify as skeptics, that of caring for and trying to find truth via rational and empirical means, is the cure for the cancer that is fake news and alternative facts in our current socio-political malaise.

Those behind the rise of fake news, such as Steve Bannon, Alex Jones, Mike Cernovich, and many others (a couple of examples; here and here) are running a classic con game. Just like the many cult leaders and charlatans who created things such as Scientology and the Mormons (a B-list sci-fi writer and a known con-man), they attracted people using people’s fears, resentments, and making them feel like they are in on the “real” truth, while everyone else is brainwashed or otherwise deceived. Trumpism is akin to a cult, and it currently controls the levers of power in the United States.

A Bait/Switch: Bias in the media

In the many discussions I’ve had with Trumpists/Trumpkins/AltRight folks in recent weeks and months, I have seen the claim that the media lies, is biased, and that Trump is merely articulating (insofar as Trump is capable of such a task) a feeling of being misled and bamboozled by an elitist and mainstream perspective for far too long. Many people. largely but not exclusively conservative, have felt that their fears about and views of the world have not been taken seriously by many politicians, many people on influence, and the media in general. They really believe that Trump can make America Great Again. Not because they are stupid or evil (though some undoubtedly are), but because they are human.

That is, while there are some truly malignant people, such as White Nationalists, Neo-NAZIs, Klan members who feel an affinity with the Trumpist message, they are not the whole or even the center of the phenomenon. At bottom these associations, while concerning and legitimate to some degree, are missing the bigger picture. We cannot keep getting distracted by historical parallels and comparisons of the Trump phenomenon to things like NAZIs; one thing about history is that every time something like this happens, it’s a little bit different and we have to become inoculated to a new strain of awful, like an immune system exposed to a new pathogen. When we yell “No Trump, no KKK, no NAZI USA!”, we lose the attention of people following Trump because they don’t see themselves as NAZIs or Klan members. Something more subtle and terrible is happening here, than that.

Now, let me start out by saying that there is definitely some legitimacy to what Trump followers are responding to; politics, media and American culture have all sort sof problems that we need to repair, and those in power have no interest in doing so. The problem, however, is that there is a bait and switch occurring. The bait is bias, and the switch is media dishonesty. Because the fact that the media is biased, while undoubtedly true, is not relevant at all to the question of whether the media is lying.

Some thoughts about bias and media deception.

  1. Bias is unavoidable and irrelevant. Good journalists know that they are biased, that their editors are biased, and that their paper/TV show/etc probably leans one way or another on a number of issues, even if they attempt to remain editorially neutral. A good journalist attempts to edit out the bias, make it explicit, and/or attempt to steelman  the arguments of their opponents in an attempt to argue with the best version/interpretation of their points, rather than dismiss or straw-man them. Bias, itself is not a problem if ones arguments are logical, there is sufficient evidence for points raised, and everyone attempts to engage fairly with people who disagree. Claiming that a media source is biased is trivially true, and unless their bias is not counterbalanced with evidence-based claims and logic, pointing out the existence of bias is irrelevant.
  2. Bias is not the same thing as an agenda. And while even those with an agenda can also have good arguments, facts, and good motivations, that agenda needs to be transparent. Outlets which are clearly partisan, whether it’s (for example) RedState, OccupyDemocrats, etc will be advocating for a specific cause, argument, or political group. And while this agenda does not imply that what they say is wrong or right, the agenda will bend and refract the facts it enumerates and reports. We as readers need to be able to recognize the slant, look at other sources, and use critical thinking to pry under the surface of the agendas. Unless their claims are substantiated by other outlets which are not affiliated with the same agendas we should be highly skeptical of the claims from sources with an agenda.
  3. Some media outlets do out-right lie, others make mistakes and either clarify them or ignore such mistakes. Reporting the news is difficult, especially when you are reporting on breaking news, leaks, or complicated issues. If you catch a media source in provable (or at least reasonable) error, and they do not retract, apologize, and or at least clarify, then you may be dealing with a dishonest or unscrupulous source.
  4. But a lie is not the same thing as a competing narrative. And this is where the real problem in the current climate exists. There are a lot of worldviews and political leanings which exist with their own values, stories, and communities. What I’m seeing a lot of, right now, especially from the alt-right and from President Trump himself, are a conflation between an alternative narrative and a claim of truth/falsity. A factual error is not merely an alternative perspective; if your beliefs are not substantiated by logic and evidence, then it’s probably not true.

This is similar to the problem I’ve had with post-modern and woo-woo beliefs over the years from the left, where people have their own truths and there is a de-valuing of critical thinking and objective truth. My instinct, gut feeling, or intuition are not sufficient for me to label something as true; I need an argument with reasoning and evidence, or I’m just making shit up. At best, I’ll be accidentally correct.

But what’s happening with the alt-right, in the last few years up through the recent elections, is more pernicious than that sort of vague subjectivism of truth. No, what Steve Bannon and his allies have done is made black into white, up into down, and gossip/conspiracy/fears into (alternative) truth. Where media with journalistic standards which rely on a network of fact-checking and cut-throat competition which weeds out poor arguments and unproven claims, the alt right gives us conspiracy theories based in fears and an agenda. Then, after weaving a narrative which resonates with people, they claim they are the source of truth, and that the fact-based media is lying.

And you know why it works? Well, as anyone who has ever started a religion (cult leaders), sold a miracle cure (snake oil), or ran a pyramid scheme knows, you can convince many people of most things. Because ‘con’ is short for confidence. It’s among the oldest tricks in the book (including most holy books). Fake news is not new; it’s been a central part of every con ever done, and America has been politically hijacked by people running a massive con game in search for power and money.

It’s not different from things like this: Big pharma is trying to sell you expensive drugs to control you and get rich, but we at (let’s make up a name) Herbaltech have this wonderful herbal tea which will cure your illnesses, and it’s only $25! But act now, before big pharma catches onto us and they sue us with their elitist lawyers. In other words, it’s charlatans fooling people who are not thinking critically about the claims they are hearing. Fake news, alt-truth, and billionaire “outsiders” who care about the people are selling people snake oil, and now run the country. too hypothetical? Fine, take a look at this.

There is no significant difference between the alt-right and any other con that skepticism has been unconvinced by for centuries. Cons feed on fear, disillusionment, and tribalism to create a rift between you and your money, votes, and allegiance (in order to get more of the previous two). For those who claimed that the major parties were corrupt and sought an outsider, they sure picked one who was much worse than the system they lost confidence in.

It’s not all that different from someone who is distrustful of organized religion finding a spiritual leader who end up being a cult leader. In fact, it’s very much like that. If you voted for Trump because he was an outsider not beholden to the political structures you don’t trust, you were conned by someone equally, if not more, corrupt than the DNC or the RNC/GOP.

Mainstream media and skepticism

I subscribe to the New York Times, and read it regularly, as well as some other sources (such as the Washington post, Rachel Maddow, the WSJ, and a number of blogs and podcasts) . I’ve been told that the NYT is biased, and that they lie all the time, by supporters of Trump. Hell, Trump himself has said it more than once. Now, I have no doubt that many of the writers for the NYT are biased; against Trump? definitely. Do they lean, in general, towards the Democrats over Republicans? Yeah, that seems largely true. But so what?

Are their claims true? Is their reporting accurate? Also, is it true that the DNC has become more mainstream and conservative, hence losing their left-wing/Progressive base which once stood up for the working class? That would explain why the mainstream media seems closer to the DNC, rather than the media becoming more liberal.

news-infographic

People on the right think that this graphic is biased. I think it’s generally accurate in terms of editorial leanings.

Now, part of the problem is that so many people supporting Trump are so far to the right that, from their point of view, the NYT looks like a commie hippie rag. But from where I stand, they seem centrist. That is, where the center seems to be depends on where you are on the spectrum. And it seems to me that much of the alt-right has lost site of where the extremes of the political spectrum actually exist. I don’t think the alt-right understands the far left very well, or how much farther left they are than the NYT (or the DNC, for that matter).

Now, the question of where the center actually is, and whether it exists anymore, is a separate and interesting question unto itself, but the issue here is how a media outlet handles the political spectrum in terms of its editorial decisions. That is, how they frame issues, how often they include stories from various political perspectives, and what they report, (not merely where the journalists themselves sit on the bias spectrum).

Whatever bias the editorial staff, reporters, or owners of the NYT has, so long as their standards of journalism are good, they retract mistakes, and they keep their biases transparent, then they cannot be called liars. That’s simply not based in reality. Whatever media we are talking about, their bias should be kept in mind, but the important part not to ignore is whether their claims are supported by *gasp* facts.

Atheists, especially if they used to be religious, are commonly personally opposed to religion. Are they biased against religion? Perhaps, but there is a difference between opposition to something for good reasons and mere bias. They are not incompatible, and one can be both opposed and biased, but sometimes opposition is earned. The New York Times, I believe (but I am probably biased) has good reason to be opposed to Donald Trump and his administrations actions so far in office. To merely call that ‘bias’ and dismiss it (or call it dishonesty) ignores the evidence, logic, and emotional import of their arguments and reporting.

Sometimes what we call bias just happens to look like a skewed perspective from the point of view of the one in error. Kierkegaard once said the following:

“One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’  One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth.  Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e., by deceiving them, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion”

Now, I imagine that a Leninist like Steve Bannon could have a field day with that quote, but what it means to me is that when one is in error, the truth looks like a lie; it looks like a deceived, biased, silly way to see the world. We atheists look silly to those believers, and we readers of the media seem brainwashed by people who are actually brainwashed by fake news sources such as Alex Jones and Breitbart.com. The relativism is one of perception of truth, not truth itself. And the tribalism which grows around those who distrust the media helps support and bolster that feeling of distrust. Religion has been using that trick for millennia.

It is possible to absolutely despise Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama and accurately report on facts concerning each. It’s possible to not care for any of them in particular, and lie you ass off in every sentence about any of them. Biased does not imply incorrect or untrustworthy. There is a difference between what you think of a person, their policies, and what happened. What actually happened–the facts–don’t care about your biases. Truth is that which remains when you stop thinking or caring about an issue.

But what I’m seeing in our culture recently is not that the media is making up events, but that they are reporting facts with an attempt to communicate a narrative, based in facts, about the world that the complaining source does not like. Was the crowd at Trump’s inauguration the largest ever? Was it bigger than Obama’s? Was it larger than the Women’s march the following day? It seems like the answers are all no (if you look at the evidence), but don’t tell Trump or his followers that. His voters think that his inauguration was the biggest of all time, say this poll. Alternative facts, folks.

That is where skepticism comes in.

That’s why we need a media driven by facts, and not propaganda, conspiracy-theorists, and people who identify with Sith (I’m referring to Steve Bannon, here) who have been known to manipulate the truth in order to gain power.

Journalism’s standards are similar to those of skepticsm; it relies on fact-checking, the competitiveness of the media market, etc. Yes, there is room for clickbait, media with agendas, and fake news in that market, but that is no different than saying that there is room for Scientology, cult leaders, and (yes) Christianity in a world that depends on science to give us better medicine, technology, and a far greater understanding of reality. The fact that alternative facts, fake news, and lies can exist in media is akin to how religion survives despite it’s complete lack of evidence or logical consistency with the world; it creates a narrative which appeals to people, creates confidence, and then becomes the center of a tribe who support each other’s narratives about how they have the truth.

At bottom, religion, political movements, and pretty much everything that humans argue about is tribalistic. The alt-right is a set of tribes who accept an alternative set of facts and narratives about the world which feeds off of fear, ignorance, and a lack of critical thinking. And the places where that critical thinking exists, which is much of the mainstream media (despite its flaws), is the only source of challenge to that tribal power. That’s why the alt-right, specifically Steve Bannon, sees it as the opposition.

They will frame it otherwise, of course, but to con-artists all skepticism is seen as the enemy.

Polydelphia outreach: seeking diversity in membership and leadership January 26, 2017

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Hello PolySkeptic readers. My recent silence has had a lot to do with the changing political status in the US, and as you may guess I have been busy with protests, a new job, and also with the every-day activities of relationships, actively learning to play my guitar with increasing skill, and reading. I may have more to say in coming weeks, but for now a brief advertisement for a local polyamorous Facebook group that I am a part of, which has been making moves to change its image, structure, and leadership.

Polydelphia is a secret Facebook group, made so in order to protect the identities of some members who wish to remain anonymously polyamorous to the general public. There are quite a few out members, myself included, but because of the potential risks of being out, for many people, the group itself is invite only.

That said, we want new members and potential new leaders. Thus, starting yesterday, we are trying to elect a “steering Committee” to oversee some of the structural and decision-making aspects of the group. Related to this, Polydelphia has written the following as a means of outreach:

 

As members of a larger polyamory community, we are aware that a priority needs to be placed on creating safe, inclusive environments and fostering diversity of thoughts and experiences. Through dialogue with the greater Philadelphia community as well as volunteers from within our membership, we realize Polydelphia has fallen woefully short of that mark.

To improve the way Polydelphia leadership represents its membership and the community at large, we are holding elections for a 5-person steering committee.

Details of the Steering Committee’s role, demographic makeup, and establishing candidacy, can be found here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o6WZAxdLbbTRiylQwaqe0XZWfdQP_SlaoBthZH7MkVU/edit?usp=sharing

Anyone with an interest in joining or voting for the steering committee, would need to be a member of the Polydelphia Facebook group; a secret group. Please reach out to current members, like myself, in order to be added as a new member.

The Nomination Period opens on January 25th and closes at midnight on February 14th.

Online Voting will go live at midnight on February 15th, and close at midnight on February 20th.

Results will be posted on the Polydelphia FB page on February 21st.
Thank you for your patience as we work to make our group and our community both stronger and safer for all.

I want to make it clear that I am not, in any way, a spokesperson for Polydelphia. I am a member merely using my blog as a means towards outreach. I am not a part of the leadership nor am I seeking votes to become part of the upcoming Steering Committee.

In the discussions over the last few months, we have emphasized diversity within the leadership and the membership in general, as well as considerations of safety and consent.

If you are in the Philadelphia area, are polyamorous or are interested in potentially becoming polyamorous, please follow the link within the quoted section above, and communicate with those who have taken it upon themselves to shoulder the burden of this task.