Thursday, January 24, 2008

Self-Determination and Islam

On Youtube I've been engaging in a discussion with the user rkzenrage. The following is a rather lengthy response that was obviously too large to include in my comments section.

rkzenrage's videos can be seen here and here, my video response is here.

"We voted for a democratic congress, showing that we do not want the same thing happening again and I believe we will continue to do the same."

The majority of Democrats in Congress at the time voted for the war and Kucinich's impeachment proceedings failed to get off the ground. That Americans voted Democrat doesn't really prove your case.

"If those in the middle east did not want the terrorist organizations there, they would not be."

You still haven't defined "terrorist" in a way that is consistent. Part of the reason the "terrorist organization" Hamas won the election in Palestine is because of Fatah's corruption and incompetence; when you've got five starving kids and no job you're going to vote for the group that will at least not steal half the UN food package you rely on and resell it on the black market. It doesn't excuse the suicide bombings and other nastiness, but it's not, as you said, "an organization that does one thing," so it must not actually be a terrorist organization.

Same with Hizbullah. They've driven out the IDF from Lebanon twice and rebuilt entire neighborhoods from the civil war when the Syrian cronies in the government were just hand-wringing.

"The religion of peace and the moderate muslim majority in the middle east and far east is a myth. It is that simple."

Replace "Muslim" with "Catholic" and "Middle East" with "Northern Ireland." Or "African" and "Kenya." Or, fuck it, "Jew" and "Israel" (since the Israelies won their independence via the Irgun and Stern Gang). There, you have every piece of propaganda that was used for decades to justify the British Empire's dicking with peoples' self-determination.

Pointing your finger and yelling "Muslim! Terrorist!" is exactly the kind of non-thinking we don't need. The fact is that if you fuck with peoples' self-determination, they're going to get angry, and very scary people will take advantage of that anger to build power for themselves. That's why for every Gandhi, MLK or Desmond Tutu you can name there are ten Nasrullahs. I'll call it colonialism, because that's exactly what it is, and it creates an environment where violence is the only means of expressing dissent that gets results.

Does this excuse the bombings, shootings, and other horrible acts of murder? No. But it does present a far more useful model than this idea that somehow their being Muslims motivates them to be more tolerant of these groups than non-Muslims would be. It’s just a way to reduce a complicated situation with numerous factors involved to a binary us vs. them mentality and rationalize feeling just a little less shitty about what’s been done in our name. You’ve been taken in by this approach that utilizes a priori reasoning at the expense of research and observation, and it ain’t the truth.

If the John Hopkins study published in the Lancet in 2006 is anywhere close to accurate, the equivalent of more than 200 9-11s worth of death has been inflicted upon the Iraqi populace by the invasion, and that’s before adjusting for differences in population (in which case the number is closer to 2,000). Now, don’t you think that’s a more productive explanation to use than “Muslims aren’t moderate?”

And, more importantly, what are you going to do to change it?

Friday, December 28, 2007

The blog where I am all political and stuff part 2

(This is part 2 in a 2-part response to my friend Kara, check out her blog titled "Libertarians" here)

Kara wrote:

Religion is a good thing and a bad thing. Humans need religion and mythology to help explain to themselves why things are the way they are and to make them comfortable with natural occurances such as death. However, this has been molded by people who like to take advantage of others, this religion has become a joke. Is there a god(s)? I don't know. No one does. Moving on.

I'd say yes and no.

Religion and mythology are there to help form both personal and group identity and to help make reality more participatory in general. Part of that means situating major life events like birth, marriage, death etc. into a storytelling framework, part of that means becoming the tribe's ideology writ large. Sometimes religion is a weapon of the oppressor, as it was with the Romans deifying dead emperors and adding them to the local religions' pantheons. Just as often, though, it is a tool of the oppressed, such as the Jews using Genesis to subvert the religion of the Babylonians who had enslaved them, or Jesus teaching that God is invoked with every ethical action, or Bhodisatva telling the Emperor of China to go fuck himself.

Now, people I know variously assume me to be Christian or atheist. They're both right in a way. I'm atheist towards the capital-T Theistic "God" of Pat Robertson and the Pope. That language game doesn't work, because it asserts absolute truth value on the authority of its own proposition, which is contradictory in and of itself, but the double-whammy is that omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are words that do not refer to anything, but only serve to mask an agenda of dominance. An omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent being can't possibly exist (see Russell, Godel, and Heisenberg). However, I am also Christian as the Gnostics were Christian, as Therese of Avila was Christian, as William Blake was Christian, adhering to Jesus's original message that through inner contemplation and outward kindness we come to the realization that reality is itself Divine (which, if you think about it, is also the message of Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Mohammed).

In short, there is no "God," but there is G-d, and we are Him.

Smaller gods, of course, do exist. The question is, what is their ontological status? Do they exist as objective beings, like foxes? My atheist response would be no. But do they exist as emergent beings? My Christian mystic response would be yes. Patterns of behavior self-organize and coordinate across populations, to the point where these transpersonal memetic bits of culture acquire something like semi-sentience in that they desire to persist in their own being; if the war god acquires a foothold in your culture, he demands blood. When the fertility goddess takes center stage, she wants you to visit the temple prostitutes or your crops won't grow. We are symbiotic with them, and in sense, we are them.

This is why chaos magick is so fun. See, it's inarguable in my mind that magic exists, whether it's the Tobriand Islanders performing a ritual to the Sea Goddess to protect their fishing ships or the baseball player wearing his lucky jockstrap, it's all magic, and it exists in every culture. To ask whether magic is "true" makes as much sense as asking if a wrench is "true;" the only important question is, "Does it work?" So when I perform rituals designed to invoke or converse with gods I don't have to believe they exist, but I have to treat Kali nicely, or else she won't empower me like I want her to.

Because Kali may not have objective existence, but you know what? Neither do I. This whole identity I've constructed called "Jason" is a fiction. We are all stories we make up as we go along, and we all invest in our stories an unproven amount of belief. So self-righteous Christians, atheists, and what-have-you that insist upon the absolute primacy of their own "truth" better take a good long, hard look in the mirror. What you see is only a body. Your likes, dislikes, experiences (memory is just past events reconstructed to serve current objectives), your whole personality is as unprovable as any god. It has no existence, until you give it existence.

To which the chaos magician responds "Why not make it interesting?"

(And to the fussbudgets that scoff "There's no such thing as a Christian atheist! That's like a married bachelor!", I introduce to you the world of Don Cupitt, Mark C. Taylor, and John Shelby Spong.

Radical Theology for teh win!)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The blog where I am all political and stuff

(Part 1 in a 2-part response to my friend Kara, read her blog "Libertarians" here)

I am not a member of the LP. I am registered to vote in the state of Nevada as a Lib but I never joined the party and never will due to a long, boring list of reasons (I'll give you a taste: to change anything on the LP's platform requires a 7/8s vote).

I'm libertarian (and a voluntarist anarchist) because your rights don't mean anything unless other people lack the right to violate them; i.e., when you say you have a right to life it means others lack the right to murder you, etc. "Absolute freedom" is a meaningless term, since freedom only means something when given the context of limitation and cost-benefit analysis, but "maximum freedom" does mean something. And where a state exists, it does so as an institution that monopolizes the use of violence, i.e. it maintains itself by extracting payment through taxes and monopolizes a given territory so that no competing institution may offer better police, court systems, infrastructure etc. Hence, the more power a state has, the less free its captive populace, and vice versa.

My position is that ethics is about the social negotiation of satisfying desire. The more free the people, the more desire can be satisfied, and this is ethical, and thus a Good Thing. I want the freedom to seek out better services if this government is not providing them at a high enough quality or low enough price. I want the freedom to opt out.

This means that I don't care if other people want to live in a theocracy or a socialist paradise, as long as it is voluntary. Allow people to opt out if they want, and leave me the fuck alone.

Backing this up are the mountains of evidence that command economies simply do not function as well as market economies. No competition, no means of determining prices. No price structure, no means of determining efficiency, like when the USSR was filling warehouses full of copper wire with no place to use it rather than shut down the copper wire-producing factories, and the Soviet military having five main battletank designs at the time of its collapse for no reason at all. Determining something's true economic value without competition in the marketplace is impossible.

Of course, the environment is important, which is why I support Climate Care, which not only takes action to reduce carbon emissions but also buys up carbon credits on the Chicago Exchange and retires them to raise their value. Carbon and pollution credits are a fantastic way to protect the environment, much better than the odious idea of electing a government that could just as easily side with the money and protect polluters rather than punish them.

To read what I read to confirm my libertarianism, check out the following books:

The Ethics of Liberty by Murray Rothbard
Socialism: an Economic and Sociological Analysis by Ludwig von Mises

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Nominative vs. Evocative Language

A lot of confusion when discussing matters of religion and philosophy comes with the difference between perception of what language is and what it should do. Nominativists are convinced that language has an isomorphic relationship with material reality; namely, that all language in its relationship to material reality must conform to it. Steven Pinker is a big advocate of this position, and it encourages a very literalist mindset wherein philosophical and religious statements can be evaluated solely on how they conform to the material universe.

Evocative language, in contrast, seeks not to describe, but to enact. The goal of theologians (and magicians, natch) is not to accurately contain reality within its models, but to change it, by changing peoples' lives.

The problem with the nominativist position, as I see it, is that there is no good reason whatsoever to assume that language is ever nominative. Metaphor is at the root of all language, and it's universal to make sense of concepts in terms relative to each other (like George Lakoff points out in "Metaphors We Live By," we're running on the metaphor "arguments are war" in our culture, as in "he attacked her argument"). The idea that language even can or should conform perfectly to material reality is unsupported.

That's why I don't concern myself with dogma or the "literal" truth of mythology, or worry about the objective existence of deities. It's a million miles past the point.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Youtube vid!

Where I (somewhat incoherently) respond to some objections about libertarianism.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Great Yeats Excerpt

I heart W.B. Yeats.

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Hooray for a Good Cause!

So, today I found the home page for Folding@Home on the Stanford page, and looking into it, it looks like a very good deal.

Basically, it takes whatever processing power you're not using on your CPU and directs it to making protein folding simulations, and creates data that then is contributed to research for treatments for cancer, Alzheimer's, Mad Cow and other such diseases.

If you want to contribute to a good cause that doesn't even cost you any money, check it out.