Archive for March 4th, 2011
I saw this video late last night and then couldn’t fall asleep for two hours. I lay awake in bed wondering what has happened to the America I thought I knew.
Glenn Greenwald adds the commentary here.
Waving an American flag is the furthest thing from my mind now that our formerly inclusive and honorable national symbol has been so thoroughly adopted by so many warmongers, and increasingly by abject bigots. I’ve personally heard several hideous broadbrush slams against Muslims over the past year, several times by people who (I thought) knew better. I’m afraid that it’s getting much worse over the past year and the venom is aimed indiscriminately against all Muslims.
Maybe someday the American flag will again widely symbolize unity and respect for individual rights.
Daily Show host John Stewart eviscerates those asking teachers and other unions to make sacrifices in the name of cutting the budget deficit, especially when those same people (literally!) did not ask the same from Wall Street bankers following the trillions of dollars of bailouts and easy money:
Incidentally, much of the rhetoric is centered around asking the unions to “contribute more” towards their benefits package, but how does one contribute more than 100%?
Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, after which followed decades of brutal repression and violence directed at the Timorese people. Hundreds of thousands of Timorese have died as a result of the conflict, whether killed outright or as a result of disease and hunger. In one incident alone, known as the Dili Massacre, hundreds of people agitating for independence for East Timor were massacred as Indonesian soldiers opened fire. There was no intervention by the United States, and in fact, we continued to sell weapons and train the Indonesian military. There are no known oil reserves credited to East Timor, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Whatever resources do exist are mired in competing claims with Australia.
In an extraordinary series of postings at Huffington Post (the first installment is here), David Sloan Wilson has taken aim at many people who have been taking aim at the dogmatism and blind faith encouraged by many religions. Yes, many religions encourage between-group conflicts and many of them disparage rational thought, at least when it comes to looking at their own religious tenets. D.S. Wilson is a careful evolutionary biologist, however, and he takes these common criticisms of religion in a new direction.
D.S. Wilson knows that between-group conflicts aren’t only caused by religion; between-group conflicts are often found in non-human animals such as “ant colonies, lion prides and chimp troops [that] don’t have religion.” As far as rational thought, he asks why brains evolved through natural selection. His answer will be stunning too many and (in my opinion) difficult to refute: the main purpose that brains evolved “is to cause organisms to behave adaptively in the real world–not to directly represent the real world.” What? Human brains are not the way they are in order to allow humans to be objective and rational beings?
It is at this point that D.S. Wilson carefully distinguished factual realism from practical realism. Long ago I concluded that there are beliefs that are important, critically important to survival, but not literally true. It is also clear that the intellect will warp itself to believe something that serves a deep, sometimes ineffable, function even though the belief is literally and demonstrably false. This phenomenon comports with D.S. Wilson’s distinction: A belief is factually realistic when it accurately describes what’s really out there (Wilson notes, and I agree, that there are no people up there sitting on clouds). A belief is practically realistic when it causes the believer to behave adaptively in the real world. Though many of us skeptics love science and long for objective truth, practical realism can also be “a good thing,” because
Most of us presumably also want to live in happy, healthy, thriving communities. If there is an unavoidable trade-off between factual and practical realism, that would place us all in a moral dilemma. Atheists such as myself are banking on the possibility it we can have our cake and eat it too; that factual realism can contribute to rather than detracting from practical realism. We need to be clear about our own articles of faith.
Factual realism is not always at odds with practical realism. A hunter who needs to make a kill in order to eat in order to help his clan survive, also needs to know “the exact location of his quarry.” It is critically important to recognize that
[O]ur minds are prepared to massively depart from factual realism, when necessary, in ways that motivate effective action. This is not a sign of mental weakness but a time-tested survival strategy. Moreover, adaptive fictions are not restricted to religions. Patriotic histories of nations have the same distorted and purpose driven quality is religions, a fact that becomes obvious as soon as we consider the histories of nations other than our own.
[More . . . ]