Wednesday 18 February 2009

Any utterance unaimed will be disclaimed, will be maimed...

How I do hate leaving a week between updates on this blog. Sorry for the lack of activity, my darlings, pressing family matters intervened in an already hectic schedule and production day on The Magazine Wot Pays Me is looming. I'm cooking up something suitably bile-filled about motherhood, welfare reform and other achingly sexy subjects, though. It'll be just what you've always wanted, I absolutely and completely promise. *grin*

In lieu of actual content, here's something I think is vitally, viscerally important: Coded Language by Saul Williams, who is a prince amongst poet-warriors even when he isn't being mixed by Trent Rezner. Listen to it, then read the lyrics, then listen to it again; it's like your soul sinking into a deep, hot bath after wandering in a cold field of bullshit all night.

ION: I just saw Susie Orbach speak about her new book. Much as I hate to be unsisterly, it was all kinds of bollocks, don't bother.


  1. Put your claws away, missy.

    Or buy yourself a scratching post!

  2. :oP i think you were missing the point anyway. But hey. At least it was interesting!

  3. Wd be very interested in some explanation of precisely *why* you thought it was bollocks? *hint hint*
    *foresees brilliant disquition on body in contemporary culture* *grins in anticipation*

  4. I'm curious - what do you mean when you say "self-satisfied Darwinophiles and their vitriol and prejudice"?

  5. Saul Williams is wonderful, and you've just reminded me I haven't got hold of his Arditti quartet collaboration thingy yet.

  6. Where did Penny Red say, "...self-satisfied Darwinophiles and their vitriol and prejudice"?

    What have evolutionists got to be self-satisfied or prejudiced about anyway? I always thought self-satisfaction and prejudice was more the province of the religious and anti-scientific rather than "Darwinophiles"!

  7. Alathea: In what I am assuming is a twitter feed in the column on the left, under the title "Daily stampings". Sorry, I probably should have made that clearer, but I just assumed that Laurie would get what I was referring to.

    I concur with your confusion, particularly about what evolutionary theory has to do with "prejudice".

  8. I, also, am confused about why Darwinophiles are more worthy of your valuable Twitter time than the people who actively attack the scientific method and pursuit of fact.

  9. "God made man,
    But he used the monkey to do it.
    Apes in the plan,
    We’re all here to prove it.
    I can walk like an ape,
    Talk like an ape,
    I can do what a monkey can do.
    God made man,
    But a monkey supplied the glue"

  10. I could not agree more about Suzie Orbach. I felt utterly shortchanged having listened to her for an hour, she revealed that the case studies in her book were made up. Yet she expects treatments and policies to be based on this view. Will Self did a good interview with her a few years ago. It was measured but very revealing.

  11. I don't think every criticism of one side of an argument has to acknowledge the flaws of the other in the same breath - especially not in the no. of characters allowed by Twitter...

    But I don't know exactly what P Red meant, either, and I'd be interested to find out.

  12. Thank you for clarification, Thaddeus. I admit to not following Penny Red's twittering in the same way as I follow her blog.

    But why is a luminary like Penny Red so anti-Darwinist anyway? Surely physical evidence in the fossil, geologic and historical records, coupled with modern sciences like genetics and bio-chemistry prove the truth of the theory of evolution beyond any reasonable doubt?

    Ms. Red seems to be the one who is harbouring a prejudice here. What happened to her to make her feel like this?

    How curious.

  13. According to Darwin we were all monkeys once, right? Well, what were we before we were monkeys? I mean I can't even recall being a monkey let alone remember what the heck I was before I was one!

  14. Intelligent Designer: It is generally held to be self-evident that before you can effectively criticise Darwinian Evolution, you must first understand it, and alas, it appears that you do not. No scientist is claiming that you personally(or any other individual, for that matter) was once a monkey.

    In fact, if someone has actually been telling you that you used to be an ape, I would politely suggest that they may in fact have been attempting to insult you, rather than teach you biology.

    Alathea: I don't think I'd say that Ms. Penny is "anti-Darwinist" per se. Indeed, she's a smart person, so I'd assume that she accepts evolutionary theory. Her comment seems more aimed towards "Darwinophiles", although beyond that I get a bit confused, which is why I brought it up.

  15. CV: indeed not, but what one mentions does tend to indicate ones priorities, and in this case I find them a bit odd. Still, off-the-cuff comments are off-the-cuff comments. *shrug*

  16. Thaddeus.

    Smile you're on candid camera!

    You need more art and humanities included in your curriculum, son. If you watched the American comedy series "My Name is Earl", shown late night on Channel 4, you'd recognise an episode of this really quite funny series as the origin of the joke in my former comment.

    Life may be short but it's taller than Ronnie Corbett! When you walk try not to drag your knuckles!

  17. Sorry about that, guys - It was late, and I said Darwinophiles when I meant Dawkinsites. Very easy to confuse the two, especially around the anniversary.

    Me, I think Darwin was right. But I don't see that as an excuse to spit at everyone else's beliefs, and that's what I've been seeing more and more on some of the liberal-affiliated sites I read. I'm an agnostic with buddhist leanings (or, at least, significant buddhist readings and experiences), I'm not an atheist. I resent being told that just because I respect science and don't believe in any sort of patriarchal beard in the sky, I'm not allowed to be spiritual at all. I find a lot of religious thought compelling, although I find its practice highly dubious much of the time. I also find the way that people idolise Richard Dawkins highly irritating and a tad hypocrytical.

    My ground rule is question everything. Question religious doctrine. Question received orthodoxies. But it has to go further than that: question atheist doctrine. Question new orthodoxies. There, does that explain it a bit more?

  18. I am an atheist now, but once, under the influence of a tab of lysergic acid diethylamide, I discovered I had the power to forgive people their sins. As I was alone at the time of this epiphany except for my tortoiseshell cat Clarence, I comprehensively pardoned my feline companion of all his sins both retrospectively and prospectively.

    I now take it upon myself to forgive both you Penny Red and every other member of the human race besides.

    You may consider yourselves well shriven.

  19. Did Richard Dawkins marry Lala Ward because he wanted to get into her genes?

  20. Intelligent Designer: Phew! It seems I've been caught out by Poe's Law. I like My Name is Earl, but I don't watch it often enough to recognise the quote. At any rate, I'm happier with the prospect of me looking like a bit of a prat over one where you actually believed that.

    Laurie: Thanks for clearing that up. I feel a bit better knowing that you don't consider liking Darwin to be prejudicial in nature.

    That said, I would still take issue with your attack of "Dawkinsites" as something of an assault on a straw-man. He seems to have become a punching bag for opponents of atheism who wish to present him as some kind of leader of a nefarious group of mindless literalists who want to ban all religion and hate beauty and never want to have fun, and are really horrible to boot. Whilst I don't think you actually believe that, I do think it's quite easy to be drawn in by some of the rhetoric surrounding the issue and end up believing things that aren't strictly true.

    For instance, I'm sorry you feel people are telling you that you're "not allowed" to respect science and be spiritual in the manner of your choosing. That said, I've not come across that as the prevailing attitude in any of the atheist groups or blogs I'm familiar with (fans of Dawkins or otherwise). I've certainly seen the veiwpoint that scientific naturalism and spirituality are incompatible by nature, but that outlook imposes no dictum on the positions others can hold.

    Similarly, I think the way you talk about "the way that people idolise Richard Dawkins" touches on another straw-man argument that these people tend to bring up; namely that Dawkins is some kind of Evil Atheist Pope, and it's just like a religion really.

    This particular "well, you do it too!" fallacy is one I find particularly confusing. Not only is it not true, it's not a particularly good defense for a religious viewpoint.

    I happen to think quite highly of Dawkins; he's a good writer and he has some interesting and well-reasoned things to say, but I'd never say that I "idolise" him, and I don't really think I've come across anyone else who does.

  21. 'Susie'? Pretty pretty please? If you don't want to explain your objections, fair dos, but please spell the poor woman right!

  22. Sashagoblin - chill out, chuck! My given name actually happens to be Suzana which I truncate to Suzie when amongst friends. I happen to like Susie Orbach, but my moniker, Suzie O, is not supposed to be some kind of bizarre homage to Susie O(rbach) or anybody else for that matter.

    So Sash, I didn't misspell my name at all, it was you who misinterpreted it contextually.

    To the pure all things are pure!

  23. I have a confession to make!

    I like Richard Dawkins!

    Although Dawkins has become an involuntary figurehead for the humanist cause, were you to talk to him or even read any of his superbly written, well argued and erudite books your negative views of the man might well be completely dispelled. Besides being scholarly Dawkins is also witty and very, very funny as I am sure another commentator on this blog, Thaddeus, will agree.

    Chill out, Penny.

    As you should know better than any of us liberty cannot exist without tolerance and debate.

    Viva la difference!

    Oh! And isn't Buddhism innately atheistic? The Buddha only claimed to have found a way to escape from the wheel of eternal suffering didn't he? Or do you know something that we don't know?

    Om mani padme hum...

  24. Oh, well, yes, Dawkins (anyone who knows me will know the tone in which I say this). I don't like him either (not because he's an atheist). I also resent the idea that respecting science and being a Christian are incompatible, and I welcome everything P Red says in her comment being 'Sorry about that, guys'..

  25. @ Clamorous Voice.

    Don't go around disliking and looking down your nose at poor old Richard Dawkins, Clammy. If you form a habit of doing things like that... well... wouldn't it be rather anti-Christian of you?

    (This is a joke by the way!)

  26. Question everythign is all well and good. That's pretty much the basis of atheism. Question and don't give automatic credance to anything. I'm puzzled to see someone as clever as you spout the line "atheist doctrine' though. Such an idea is patently bollocks. The only uniting cause for atheists is a lack of a belief in a theistic force. That's not a doctrine and never could be. Atheists might organise themselves around various banners, political and philosophical but that doesn't make any position the atheist position. I respect and like Dawkins, but I very much doubt I agree with all his politics, nor would I change my position based on his pronunciations. I find him interesting and I admire him for saying a lot of things about organised religion that somebody needed to say. BUt again, significant;y that's not a doctrine. Show me the Atheist Nicene Creed and maybe I'll believe that old chesnut.

  27. Such an idea is patently bollocks. The only uniting cause for atheists is a lack of a belief in a theistic force. That's not a doctrine and never could be

    That ceases to be true when atheists start running bus campaigns telling other people what to think. At that point they have a doctrine, and indeed they have a dogma.

    The example of an 'atheist Nikean Creed' is a red herring; "There's probably no God" is a short doctrine but it is one, nevertheless. "There is no god" is also a doctrine, and one I encounter much more frequently than the previous one, from people who self-define as atheists.

    I personally think the campaign is brilliant. I love the fact it exists and I love the fact people are allowed to ridicule it, just as they do the Alpha course adverts or the one which I recently saw saying words to the effect of 'only the fool denies the presence of the Lord', which is clearly an attempt at subtly calling Dawkins a fool. Silly people.

    The philosophical principle of questioning all things is simply skepticism. To be atheism, it must go one step further and make a statement about theism. Thus, by infection, doctrine creeps in.

  28. It's not a doctrine. I could give you creed, in that denial of God could be argued to be a statement of belief, though I'm not totally convinced as it is a statement of non belief. And 'there's probably non God' is not exactly the most powerful way to make an argument or tell people what to believe. In fact I find it incomprehensible that a statement that merely throws doubt on the existence of God is interpreted as dictatorial.

    A doctrine is an actively taught organised system of policies attached to a government or a religion. Atheism lacks both the framework and such a coherent raft of ideas beyond being loosely bound by a lack of faith.

  29. "That ceases to be true when atheists start running bus campaigns telling other people what to think."

    Statements such as these suggest that one has a limited idea of what one is talking about.

    Those campaigns have nothing to do with "telling other people what to think", and much more to do with simply having a public voice.

    Continuing to insist that there is an Atheist Doctrine might keep you busy, but it does not change the fact that it isn't true. A lack of a belief in a Creator God, is simply not a doctrine.

  30. @ Siân.

    Why would atheists need a creed? Or to organise themselves in a recognisable and formal way?

    The whole idea of atheism is to abandon the mythology of divine authority, whose will is received and interpreted on earth by a self-styled priesthood, and hence to liberate oneself from the need for any creed, canon or sundry man-made dogma?

    Atheism is about freedom, not foible.

  31. That is kind of my point. I don't think atheism exists to be bound in such a way. And the very limit of applying religious terminology that can be held up grammatically is to say we have a creed of non belief. But it doesn't really work.

  32. Can disbelief actually be a belief?


  33. I don't know about all this "There is probably no God" thing on buses or not but I do believe that "Heineken is probably the best lager in the world".

    For sure!

  34. Alathea - I've read a lot of Dawkins' writing, although I haven't been lucky enough to meet the man in person.

    Atheism is a statement of belief - a statement of belief that there is no god. Not only am I down with that, I believe that atheists have as much right to have their beliefs recognised as anyone else, hence why I think the bus advert campaign is a great idea. But it really gets me riled up when atheists get so defensive that they start attacking other faiths, which - with all the furore around the atheist bus campaign - is what seems to have been happening.

    There is a difference between atheism and skepticism, as JQP says. I'd go so far as to say that skepticism taken to its logical conclusion would be incompatible with atheism, being that the latter is a definite position, and the former exists to question all definite positions.

    Doctrine. Right, dictionaryonline has -

    'a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school' has:

    'a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government: Catholic doctrines; the Monroe Doctrine. '

    And here, I think, we come to the crux. Doctrine implies not only a firmly-held position, but advocation of that position, even teaching of it. I think that's what atheists have been doing in the public sphere in recent months, and I'd question the way it's been done, which to my thinking deliberately echoes some of the worst type of theistic smugness, but I'd not challenge the fact that it's being done. I think it's about time.

    I get annoyed with atheists who become petty, smug or vitriolic. That was all my original comment was intended to communicate. I think atheists and skeptics should be better than that, because I firmly believe that this period of human history needs to be an age of both atheism and skepticism. I respect the right of all religions to a public voice, but I believe that atheism and skepticism are and should be the tools of reasoned debate, anti-extremism and humanist and socialist acheivement in the 21st century. I believe that atheism and skepticism desperately need to represent a mature, tolerant and reasonable public position. And *that* is why atheist intolerance makes me so very, very frustrated.

    Thank you for making me explain my position, guys. I've thought about it a bit more now. :)

  35. Okay, PR, but you're a bit to smart for your own good if you ask me.

    I wonder if I put my mind to it whether I could actually beat you in a battle of wits? I can be quite formidable myself. Hmm. If not in wit then surely I could best you at arm wrestling?

    Oh yes!


  36. Laurie: You advocate skepticism, and yet you also say it upsets you when atheists "start attacking other [sic] faiths". However, it's a pretty standard activity for a skeptic to argue against positions with which they disagree. I don't think it's an act of "intolerance" to criticise a faith; after all, for a public forum to be intellectually honest and stimulating, it is necessary not only that ideas are proposed, but also that they can be argued against. It's one thing to respect a person's right to hold a belief, and another thing entirely to unquestioningly respect the belief itself, and I'd argue that in a polite society, only one of those is necessary.

    I suppose it comes down to what, precisely, you mean by "attack" - if you can provide an example of someone being genuinely intolerant towards people of faith, then that's obviously not on. Which brings me to my second point. "Atheist intolerance" is a pretty strong claim; can you provide some examples of it? I expect there is some of it out there, but I'd suggest it's in no way common or representative of a majority. Which is why some of what you've been saying has troubled me, because the way you've said it, you've rather been tarring a good deal of us with the same brush, which is a bit unfortunate.

  37. Regarding the "Probably no God" campaign: I say again, I'm all in favour. This is true mainly because that phrase is exactly where a skeptic should be: there's probably no God but all the data has not yet been gathered, and until it is the skeptic will hold no firm opinion.

    Most atheists, as opposed to people who self-define as agnostic (meaning uninvolved with deity and unsure of its existence) have, in my experience, a very firm view on the issue. There is no god. They will often tell you why, at great length. They frequently remind me of Bible Belt Christians while doing so.

    a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated

    That's the definition of doctrine that I am familiar with, and it is the one I was using when I stated that atheism not only has, but effectively is, a doctrine. By its nature, however, it can escape becoming a dogma; and like Penny, it annoys me when it is used as one.

  38. Brothers! Sisters! Only children!

    It has been revealed to me by an angelic harbinger that God, the universe and everything are but fleeting fragments of a dream fermented in the febrile sensorium of an intoxicated hypnogogic tree frog, which lives on a barge made out of tea trays, moored on a dun coloured canal which winds its serpentine way from ocean to ocean across the isthmus of a land mass on a large pluvial planet that exists in a parallel world.

    I FEEL in my heart that this is the truth and so KNOW that it must be TRUE as a matter of personal faith.

    Prove me wrong!

  39. Pythoness: that's a delightful satire on the problems with One True Way-ism. Well illustrated :)

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