Review of “Unapologetic”

December 2, 2016

So, I recently received and read John W. Loftus’ “Unapologetic”, which attempts to show that either Philosophy of Religion has to radically change or — and this mostly seems to be his preference — has to fade away completely. Early in the book, Loftus says that he doesn’t think that arguments are going to convince anyone anyway, and it seems that, in this book, he carries that forward by refusing to actually make arguments. The book takes a very aggressive and arrogant tone — like that of Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers, and Richard Carrier, all of whom he cites at various times in the work — but the risk with that sort of tone is that you had better be right. He isn’t right enough to get away with summarizing his arguments with a “Period.” or “End of Story.” as if no one could ever question him.

He also seems to fundamentally misunderstand what philosophy actually is. I don’t mean that he conflates philosophy of religion and theology — although he does, especially when he talks about himself as an expert in philosophy of religion because he’s done theology, although the two are not the same thing — but instead that he suggests approaches that are fundamentally non- and even anti-philosophical as if they are what philosophy ought to be doing. I plan on going through the chapters and picking out a few important points later, and so the details of that will come when I do that (stay tuned!).

But let me outline the two main arguments he gives for philosophy of religion being no longer relevant and not something that ought to be taught in any academic setting:

1) Philosophy of Religion focuses too much on Christianity and Western Religions, and not enough on other religions, even dead ones. It also focuses too much on the Western Analytic tradition. In short, it’s too parochial.

2) There is little reason to think that philosophy can advance or should have a discipline that starts from something that doesn’t exist. He uses the comparison of fairies and Superman here, to wonder why we study God and not, say, Superman philosophically.

Well, okay, the main thrust of his argument is that faith is terrible and shouldn’t be allowed in any academic setting which he repeats and assert over and over and over again, as just when he said it, that’s when he’d say it (how’s that again?). But I’ll deal with that one later. Let me, then, just focus on these two.

1) This is, in fact, a common criticism of philosophy in general, that Western philosophy focus too much on the analytic tradition — as opposed to the continental tradition that he references as a reason consider philosophy of religion too parochial — and too much on Western philosophy while ignoring Eastern philosophy. So, he’s criticizing Philosophy of Religion specifically for failings shared by all of philosophy. Unless he’s also anti-philosophical — and he claims not to be — this isn’t an argument against philosophy of religion.

2) I’d like to draw his attention to “Philosophy in Popular Culture”, which is indeed examining concepts like Superman to see what interesting philosophical ideas can be raised from them. I believe that it’s not even just in popular bookstores near you anymore, but that there are specialized courses in universities using it. The main reason philosophy of religion is more prominent is because it’s an issue that more people care about and religion, in all of its forms, raises far more interesting philosophical issues than, say, fairies do. And, yes, this might even apply to “dead” religions, which might at least rise to the level of Superman and, more importantly, Batman in terms of philosophical interest. So we already would do that if they were interesting. If he thinks they are, then he can feel free to argue for their inclusion. And if he thinks that philosophy of religion is not interesting, he can argue for that, too, and we might see some of that in my later assessments (stay tuned!). But just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting philosophically.

I find myself utterly unconvinced by “Unapologetic”, and Philosophy of Religion is something like seventh on my list of philosophical interests (after luge!). Loftus’ views of what we should do in philosophy classes seems anti-philosophical to me, and he far too often relies on repeating his conclusions — often conclusions from elsewhere — rather than arguing for any conclusion that he wants us to accept. I can’t recommend this as a book for anyone other than people who already agree with Loftus to read, which makes it a bad book in a philosophical context. But hopefully more of that will come through in the more detailed analysis.

All my scheduled games are PC now.

November 30, 2016

(Loosely to the tune of “All My Rowdy Friends” by Hank Williams Jr.)

All my scheduled games are PC now
That I can only really play in the middle room
So I can’t really play while watchin’ TV
While sitting in the living room

I myself have seen my console days
And those games are still at the top of the page
When I need to find a game just to play around
But none of them are scheduled right now
And all my scheduled games are PC now

And I think I could play a Persona game
But I’ve got too many games from Good Old Games
So many that I can’t keep ’em straight

And even though I’m home more these days
See none of them are scheduled right now
And all my scheduled games are PC now

And the leftovers annoy more then they used to
And Bloodlines and TOR took the place of Wii and PS4
And it seems like I really don’t do things quite like I used to do
And none of those are scheduled right now
And all scheduled games are PC now

Yeah, I think I could play Fatal Frame
But those Good Old Games don’t cost a lot of cash
Don’t crash like they did back in 2008

And right now I’m a Toreador playin’ in L.A.
And none of those games are scheduled now
‘Cause all my scheduled games are PC now

Hugo Awards Assessment: Seveneves

November 28, 2016

So, it’s been a month since I finished “The Aeronaut’s Windlass” and started “Seveneves”. It’s taken me that long in part because I’m still insanely busy at the moment, but the most important reason is … “Seveneves” is just a really, really bad book.

I’m going to analyse it in detail — and use some concepts that Shamus “No-Award” Young talked about in his discussions of science fiction — below the fold, but the short summary is that “Seveneves” is a book that doesn’t seem to know what plot it wants to get across and drowns anything of interest in technical details and uninteresting Mary Sue characters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why No One Is On My Side ….

November 25, 2016

Side? I’m on nobody’s side … because nobody is on my side.

Reading this post by Vox Day on identity politics drives home why I used to use that phrase as my blog’s tagline, and why it fits this eccentric moderate so very, very well. The left has been driving identity politics for a long time, and Day is correct to say that they applied it for every group except whites. For the left, “minority” groups were told to embrace and take pride in their minority identity, and act accordingly, including on the basis of what was best for that group. Whites, on the other hand, were admonished to stop doing that, and in fact to feel shame for that grouping that they were born into. I also think that Day is right to suggest that in the latest U.S. election, a lot of whites did vote more on the basis of their racial identity than on ideology. Where we part ways is right about here:

The Trump administration need pay no more heed to the anti-White identity interests than the Obama administration paid to the White identity interests. In fact, it should not, because Donald Trump’s second term depends upon continuing to ride the transformation of the Republican Party into the White Party.

In terms of analyzing what needs to be done in the so-called “age of identity politics”, Day probably has it right that this is what Trump needs to do. But, in doing so, he kinda misses what at least my problem with the left actually was: the fact that they did use identity politics in the first place. The reason I often dislike and distrust them is that their arguments and values are based around identity politics — and other philosophical positions that I find dubious — and not around things that actually appeal to me. They rely on identity politics to make their point, and provide nothing else. Day’s response is to, essentially, fire back using the same tactics that they use that so annoy me, and the effect of this is to make it so that all of the discourse is and remains on those terms. But those are precisely the terms that I reject. Thus, I’m left with having to choose the “lesser” of two sides who both start from the principles that I detest, distrust, and think invalid.

And while I could see it as just a tactical move in order to get the “right values” in place, the problem with that is that I don’t agree with either side on the “right values”. I have no problem with diversity, but think forced diversity is a very, very bad thing. In short, diversity in and of itself is not intrinsically bad and not intrinsically good. I want to judge people purely by their qualifications and content of their character, and think the idea that diverse groups (in the sense of them having diverse genders and races, etc) have differing worldviews is laughable. I also believe that there are cases when having diverse viewpoints hurts things instead of helps, as it can lead to more conflict. So, taken together, my values here put me on the wrong side of both the left and the right, and so I see attempts to use identity politics as attempts to bully and impose on people no matter who is using it. As another example, I recently pointed out in a different comment thread that I don’t see the Catholic Church as imposing their view of morality on society any more than those on the left were, because they based their arguments on a moral system that I don’t accept — natural law theory — but the left bases theirs on humanistic and utilitarian moral systems that I also don’t accept. To me, both of them are trying to impose their own view of morality on society. They just have different moral systems (and, to be honest, the Catholic one is actually better thought out).

So, I am convinced of two things. First, that eventually I will end up on the opposite side of both sides at some point. Second, that if I do they will both use the precise same bullying tactics to get me into line. Which usually only makes me dig in harder (I’m stubborn that way).

This is what is driving my thoughts on the Hugo Awards. The Puppies side is claiming that the other side is using influence and shaming to try to impose their values and ideas of what is good on science fiction. Their response: to do very similar things to get books in play that share their values. When I admonished the non-Puppy side by pointing out that to defuse the entire Puppy movement all they needed to do was play fair — and they couldn’t even do that — it was not me saying that the Puppy side was playing fair. They weren’t really playing fair. But their claim was that the other side wasn’t playing fair, and so they needed to do that to demonstrate that, and the non-Puppy side then obliged by not playing fair and then trying to change the rules instead of, well, just playing fair. Thus, I ended up convinced that both sides cared more about winning than about having a system that was fair and worked well, and worst of all that “winning” for them was about getting their own way, and that having a fair system didn’t count as “winning” for them.

That’s pretty much what “winning” means for me, though.

So, neither side is on my side, because neither really seems to want what I want. Which is fair; I want some rather odd things. But then what I really want is a system where neither side uses the bad tactics that tries to force me into picking a side instead of simply supporting the ideas that I think are right. And given that neither side seems willing to give that, I can’t be on either side.

No matter how much they try to shame me for that.

It’s Magic …

November 23, 2016

Dinner, it turns me upside down
Dinner, dinner, dinner
It’s like a merry go round
I see it under the midnight
All steamers and bowls
High pans with the meat a sizzlin’
A tempermental glow

Oh, think it’s time to go
Oh, I’m gonna have some spoo
I’m gonna have some spoo
I’m gonna have some spoo tonight
Oh, I’m gonna have some spoo
I’m gonna have some spoo (I’m gonna have some spoo)
I’ll check

(Oh oh it’s magic) when I eat spoo (oh oh it’s magic)
(Oh oh it’s magic) just a little magic
You know it’s true
I’m gonna have some spoo

Oh, twisted under sideways down
I know I’m getting twisted
And I can’t calm down
I see it under the midnight
Love darts in my eyes
How far can I take it?
‘Till I realize
There’s magic in my eyes

I’m gonna have some spoo
I’m gonna have some spoo
I’m gonna have some spoo tonight
I’m gonna have some spoo
I’m gonna have some spoo
(I’m gonna have some spoo) yeah, yeah, uh

(Oh oh, it’s magic)
Oh oh, when I have spoo
(Oh oh, it’s magic)
Just a little bit of the magic
Pulls me through
I’m gonna have some spoo

I’m gonna have some spoo
I’m gonna have some spoo
(I’m gonna have some spoo)
Just try, it’s magic
(Oh oh, it’s magic)
Oh oh, it’s magic
When I eat spoo (oh oh, it’s magic)

Just a little bit of magic inside of you (Oh oh, it’s magic)

Just a little bit of magic
That’s true, when I eat spoo
(Oh oh, it’s magic)
(It gotta be magic)
Your magic pulls me through
Oh oh, it’s magic
(Oh oh, it’s magic)

Unapologetic …

November 21, 2016

So I’ve discovered from Jerry Coyne that John Loftus has a new book out. This time, he’s trying to argue for why philosophy of religion should not be considered a legitimate branch of philosophy. From the blurb, the reasoning seems to be that it’s mostly used for apologetics, and philosophy should not be used for that. Since I commented on “The Outsider Test” (and found it lacking) I have purchased this book and will hopefully read and comment on it at some point in the near future. I also picked up “Christianity in the Light of Science”.

Given the blurb, I suspect that Loftus will make two big mistakes in his criticism:

1) He will assume that the field is defined by the issues that are currently in vogue — or, rather, what he tends to read in that field — rather than what the field is as a whole, and so will ignore all of the other things that philosophy of religion actually does that are merely apologetics.

2) In particular, he will ignore that the major atheistic arguments like The Problem of Evil, Euthyphro, and even the idea that there is a difference between faith-based and reason-based argument are actually philosophy of religion arguments, and thus part of the field that he wants to do away with because it’s not intellectually respectable.

Maybe he’ll surprise me. Somehow, I doubt it.

Words to Live By …

November 18, 2016

So, as I mention in about every other post, I’m really, really busy right now. But since my mind never, ever stops thinking unless I’m asleep, I’ve pondered for a bit and come up with a few interesting thoughts, at least as they apply to me:

1) A common phrase is “A change is as good as a rest”, which doesn’t seem to apply to me. For me, the appropriate phrase is “Accomplishment is as good as a rest”. Getting something done that you’ve been struggling to do or needing to do for a long time not only means that you get the surge of satisfaction from getting it done, but also that it goes off your list and you can stop thinking about it. Freeing up my mind to think about and worry about and plan for other things always lightens my burden.

2) The best way to motivate myself to do things is with the phrase “You can’t go do something else until you get this done”. I was raking recently and pushed through it with no breaks with the constant repetition of the statement “The faster you get it done, the faster you can go and do other things.”

Just musings while extremely busy.

Why Can’t I Have Spoo?

November 16, 2016

I’ve been watching Babylon 5 and listening to The Cars lately, and it has inspired another song parody:

My dreamy lips, set in motion, flashing
Their breathless hush, poundin’ soft, lasting
Oh glossy mouth, a taste untamed, moving
Carousel, up and down
Just like spoo

Oh baby
Just one more time to touch spoo
Just one more time to eat spoo
It’s on my mind
Baby, why can’t I have spoo?
It’s breakin’ my heart in two
You know what I’m goin’ through
Oh baby, why can’t I have spoo?

Oh candy smile, all the while, glinting
Your eyes like mica, a lethal pout, hinting
(Felt the pressure)
Oh and I felt the pressure, tight and warm, softly striking
(Oh tripped and stumbled)
Oh I tripped and stumbled
I cling forever
I’ll eat tonight

Oh baby
Just one more time to touch spoo
Just one more time to eat spoo
I think I’m blind
Baby, why can’t I have spoo?
It’s breakin’ my heart in two
You know what I’m goin’ through
Uh oh baby, why can’t I have spoo?

(Baby) oh baby (why can’t I have spoo?) why can’t I have spoo?
You know what I’m goin’ through
(It’s breakin’ my heart in two)
It’s breakin’ my heart, breakin’ my heart
(Don’t know what I’m gonna do)
(You’re breakin’ my heart) breakin’ my heart
(Baby) oh baby (why can’t I have spoo?) I need spoo
(You know what I’m goin’ through)
It’s breakin’ my heart (it’s breakin’ my heart in two)
Oh baby, I need spoo so much, I need spoo, much
(Don’t know what I’m gonna do)
(You’re breakin’ my heart)
(Baby) oh baby (why can’t I have spoo?)
(You know what I’m goin’ through)

How Sweeting It Is …

November 14, 2016

Oh, come on, I’m not going to be the first one to use that line!

Anyway, the Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge was on this weekend, and as is my wont I paid a lot of attention to the women’s side and little attention to the men’s … and, particularly, followed the Tier 1 Women’s event.

One of my favourite teams — Rachel Homan’s — disappointingly lost in the quarter finals to Michelle Englot, who had recently taken over Kristy McDonald’s team. That team made it to the finals, and is a team that I didn’t know at all and didn’t particularly care for, so I was hoping that a team that I did like would make it through to give me an obvious team to cheer for in the final. And, as it turns out, it was the other of my favourite teams — Val Sweeting’s — that made it through and, ultimately, ended up winning it all.

The most interesting thing about that, to me, was that Sweeting made it through the semis and won the final mostly on her ability to steal. In the semi-final against Allison Flaxey, she stole her first eight points and only ended up scoring 1 when she had the hammer to end up with a 9 – 2 win. In the final, it looked like Englot was going to turn the tables on her after Englot stole 2 in the first, but after Sweeting took 1 in the second she then went on to steal 4 more before Englot replied with 2. Sweeting finally took 3 in the seventh to seal an 8 – 4 victory. So, at least this weekend, I was happy.

I also caught some of the men’s action, and in a match between Charley Thomas — who should be better known as the only man who lost to Rachel Homan — and John Epping I was reminded of why I prefer the women’s game. Epping had loaded up with a lot of “frozen” rocks, where the rocks are stacked so tightly together that trying to remove the closest one will end up removing only the furthest one. Thomas reared back and threw the rock really hard and moved almost all of them out, leaving his own around (I believe) getting himself out of trouble … which ended all of the suspense around that end and made the strategy superfluous. Women don’t usually have enough weight — against, insert your own joke here — to do that, and so that would require more finesse or else would result in the strategy producing points for the team that set it up in the first place. I don’t find the “If we’re in trouble, throw really hard and see what happens” strategy all that interesting to watch.

Anyway, there’s more curling to come, and I expect to talk more about curling as the season goes on.

Democracy and “Listen” …

November 11, 2016

I’ve been reading around my usual haunts, and something just struck me. In the United States, at least, white people are in the majority. Yet the progressive and Social Justice concept of “Listen” has been, as I’ve noted before, that people and most importantly political institutions need to listen to the concerns of minorities, but doesn’t need to listen to the concerns of the majority white people. Except that democracy, first and foremost, is about listening to the concerns of the majority. Thus, the Social Justice narrative was, in fact, anti-democratic. Sure, in a democracy the minority needs to be listened to as well, but in general if people are voting we expect that the concerns of the various majority groups are the ones that the political institutions will listen to and most try to implement. And that, in fact, is the whole point of democracy.

And you can’t argue that the only reason to not listen to the majority group is that their concerns are listened to by default and define, say, culture, because the whole point of democracy is, in fact, to get the people to explicitly state and vote on the basis of their concerns, because the political institutions might not know what they actually are. There’s no point in getting people to vote and doing what the majority wants if you are confident that you already know what the majority wants. Voting itself, then, presumes that every election year you want to find out, at least, if you still know what the majority wants.

The progressive approach has been to try to convince the majority group to not care about or act on their own interests, but on the interests of others. And they seem surprised that, eventually, the majority group will indeed say that that’s not how things ought to work, and actually use their political power to reflect what they think is in their self-interest. You can call that “white supremacy”. But in reality, for the United States, it’s just democracy.

Thus, for progressives to gain ground, they need to get buy-in from the majority instead of trying to guilt-trip them into it. Alternatively, they can wait for shifting demographics and hope that those shifting demographics skew more progressive, even as the shifting demographics increase the populations of groups that aren’t necessarily progressive in terms of outlook. In an election where Trump was explicitly and directly portrayed using his own words as racist and sexist, and where a number of visible Trump supporters actually are white supremacists, Trump did better among all racial groups than the milquetoast Romney did. That’s not a good sign for that strategy.

It’s time for the self-proclaimed advocates for inclusion to include everyone. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then these sorts of political disasters — in their minds — will continue to occur, even as their wring their hands and wonder why it all happened.

(Note: I think that the other side should include everyone, too. It’s just that they, at least right now, don’t make any pretense of trying to do that. Whichever party gets off its butt and actually starts to include everyone first is going to have massive success. Neither party currently seems willing to do that.)