The Passionate Zeal of the Rebel Outcast – A Question for the League

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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257 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    No conversion stories but the concept you are thinking is Cognitive Dissonance. Its  a very interesting social psychology theory that has quite a bit of experimental support.Report

  2. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    I became a Laker fan in 1995.

    I hated Magic Johnson, the whiner, in the 80s.  Hm; I still prefer Bird to Magic, so I don’t know if that counts, per se.  Plus I was never really a basketball fan of any sort until 1990, and then it was college basketball only for five years.  Okay, throw that example out.

    I used to believe a lot of things with a lot more certainty than I have now.Report

  3. Avatar Will H. says:

    I’ve been wrong about so many things.
    It’s hard to pick one.
    I used to mock ‘college boys’ as incapable. I later went to college, and I loved it.
    I used to hate unions. A bunch of Yankees out to take my job. Now I’m the union man.
    I used to hate Yankees. Not a Civil War type of thing, just insularity. Hated Texans too. I went to upstate New York one year. Loved the place. Still don’t have much in the way of nice to say about Texas though.
    I used to hate hollow-body guitars. Now I’m into the ES-175 and GB-10.
    I used to have long hair. I wasn’t about to sell out. Now I have short hair. Need a haircut actually.
    I used to not have a problem with tattoos. I have two of them. Though I’m pretty ripped and the muscles in my shoulders jump out like a Marvel superhero when I move, I am so embarrassed by it that I will not be seen without a shirt– ever.
    I have been very, very bad.
    Part of my punishment is to have lived long enough to understand that.Report

  4. Avatar Trumwill says:

    Me, before 2002, “Smoking is the dumbest habit on the face of the earth.”

    Me, countless times after 2002, “Where are my cigarettes? Where are my cigarettes?! WHERE ARE MY CIGARETTES?!?!?!”

    Me, circa 2005, “I have a cell phone, and a PDA. Why would I need a smartphone?”

    Me, circa 2011, “I can’t stand the fact that I might have to go back to having two devices.”

    Me, before 2009, “Why would I ever buy a new car? They lose value the second you drive them off the lot!”

    Me, circa 2010, “We have found it makes more sense for us to buy new…”Report

  5. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Twitter.  Though I was never hostile, I just didn’t see the value in expressing and reading 140-character thoughts.  I was really wrong.  I didn’t understand the power of the immediate interactivity potential there.  It’s like IM-ing with everyone all at once, if you want it to be.  And I was never much of an IM-er.  But for me, Twitter dwarfs any other particular platform for capacity for sharing information (because of the linking capacity) with a controlled group of particular people (as opposed to straight mass-media), and for connecting people across the barriers of geography and even social status.  I.e., while I initially was skeptical that the messages we see from celebrities and other VIPs gave us information we weren’t previously pivvy to, i now think Twillter has legitimately opened up parts of the private lives of public (and private) people that weren’t previously open – all through entirely voluntary acts of sharing.  I think this effect has eclipsed the effect of Facebook in communications generally (even if Facebook still dominates in private online social networking).

    Anyway, I wasn’t a hater ever, so maybe this doesn’t really count as a 180-conversion, but I was definitely a skeptic until sometime in 2009, after which time Twitter definitely redefined my online experience in a way Facebook never did.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Twillter?Report

    • Avatar Jeff Wong says:

      You weren’t wrong. At the time, how Twitter would be used was unknowable. It actually was useless at that particular time.

      It didn’t become useful until people started using it AND customs and patterns of use emerged that were more meaningful than telling the world what a great dump you took.

      On the other hand, Never Say Never. I thought facebook would never have any use except become this harmful medium that turns people into narcissists.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Have you ever stood strongly for something – almost militantly so – that you now stand equally strongly against?

    Dunno. There are definitely a lot of things that I stood strongly for at age 17 that I do not stand strongly for, or even agree with now. However, I’ve never been able to do the militant convert thing of being intensely against those things or the people who now believe them. Mostly, it’s just a sort of nostalgic, “Yeah, I remember when I felt that way” thing.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Also, it must be a regional thing because I’ve never heard of that Big Green Egg thing at all.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        It’s a barbeque thing, the way the South does barbeque.(what the North calls barbeque is actually called grilling — BBQ is low and slow)

        Me? I don’t have a porch, so I gotta get something which goes inside. So I use a cobb grill (plus, there’s the idea of being able to make something cheaply, and for two people, not a full posse)Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I’d never heard of it until yesterday either. Apparently it’s got a cult-like following among foodies, though.Report

  7. Avatar Roger says:

    Supporting the president in international relations because he is the president.Report

  8. I have gone from being stridently anti-abortion (to the extent that I once picketed a Planned Parenthood benefit) as an adolescent to being stridently pro-choice (to the point that I was up on stage during the March for Women’s Lives a few years ago) as a younger adult, to being in the middle now, albeit still on the pro-choice side of the ledger.Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    I’m too much of a squish to take many hard positions that I can easily reverse. But I’m only 32 so there’s surely time for those firm positions I have to invert. It’d be interesting if any of them do.Report

    • North,

      What you say is probably mostly true of me.  I have had positions that I’ve inverted, but most of my positions, even the ones I have changed, have been watered-down versions of more extreme positions.  I think this has usually been a good thing–the few times I’ve become a “true believer,” I did and said things I’ve since come to regret–although perhaps this tendency bespeaks an unwillingness to commit myself to the good when the choice between good and bad presses on me.Report

  10. Avatar James B Franks says:

    That is my biggest problem with Atheism, it’s still a belief.  The rational position is Agnosticism.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      and rationally, I am an agnostic (with evidence to marshall in favor of “there might be a G-d”). I choose to believe in G-d, regardless — it makes me a better person, even if G-d doesn’t exist.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Agnostic fistbump! Or should that be “agnostic fistbump?” ?Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      I used to be a pretty certain Atheist once as well.

      Now I am a firm Agnostic- there is no way Atheists know anything (same goes for you Theists).

       Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Plinko me lad, isn’t firm agnostic a contradiction in terms? *Agnostic fistbump?*Report

      • Avatar Derp says:

        Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you lack belief in a diety, you’re an atheist.

        Think of it this way, we probably agree that Mohammed didn’t ascend to heaven on a flying horse, but we can never be 100% absolutely positively sure because we weren’t there. That doesn’t mean we have to say we’re agnostic. It’s just incredbily unlikely based what we know about the natural world so it’s fairly safe to assume it’s untrue until proven otherwise. Therefore, we lack belief in the story about Mohammed.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          I don’t believe in diety, either; I find that exercisey is far more effective.

          “Think of it this way, we probably agree that Mohammed didn’t ascend to heaven on a flying horse, but we can never be 100% absolutely positively sure because we weren’t there.”

          Congratulations, you just defined the word “agnostic”.  Atheist is not “we don’t know”, atheist is “we do know that there isn’t.”Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      What is agnosticism for you?  If it’s just anything short of 100% certainty, then in fact practically no atheists are not also agnostics.  Just about everyone admits some degree of certainty less than total; the question is what that means.  If it’s some degree of certainty far less than 99.9%, then what percentage certainty is the maximum that is consistent with rationality, and why is it that number?Report

      • Avatar James B Franks says:

        As soon as the word belief enters into it, it is no longer Agnosticism.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          Well, strictly speaking, atheism is the lack of belief in God.  Anti-theism is the positive proposition that there is no god(s).  So all anti-theists are atheists, not all atheists are anti-theists, and all or most atheists who aren’t anti-theists are rational by your definition.  It is the world that thrusts on atheists the need to have a belief or not have a belief with respect to God in the first place.  It is the widespread and influential nature of the existence of belief in God in the world that requires nearly all people, regardless of prior inclination, to confront the question of what they believe about His existence.  The idea that emerging from that forced confrontation with a belief of any kind amounts to an irrational conclusion seems incredibly unforgiving and inflexible with respect to the demands of reason to me.  In a sense, belief/not-belief is itself a false dichotomy to begin with.  in all things we believe or suspect are true, we have some degree of (un)certainty.  Where is the cutoff for belief? Why even dwell on the distinction when the fact is that degrees of certainty is how we construct what we think is the case in the world.  The ‘credal’ approach to these questions is a quintessentially religious frame from the start.  The relevant point is that, for an atheist, there isn’t sufficient reason to conclude that a God exists.  She has no further responsibility to speak to her belief or lack thereof that no God exists.Report

          • Avatar James B Franks says:

            I disagree atheism,at least as practiced by it’s vocal proponents, is not lack of belief. The Atheist I’ve spoken to always frame it as, I believe there is no god.  This is probably, as you have noted, an artifact of society but that is not really relevant.  Unless you are a hermit you are part of society and must conform at least in part to it’s framing.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              And why is belief as to that question (again, just an arbitrary name we each give subjectively to some degree of (un)certainty about a question – obviously we don’t say that we are 100% certain that everything we believe is true is true) in either direction necessarily irrational when (presumably you are saying) belief as to other questions is not?  How do we know for what questions belief is rational?  Or is belief simply irrational? (This is a more weighty question.)Report

            • Avatar rexknobus says:

              I honestly don’t understand how this gets to be such a weird and confusing issue. Be honest with yourself — isn’t there an almost endless list, inside your head, of things that you don’t believe exist? Examples: easter bunny; hobbits; dragons; a hollow area at the center of the earth where dinosaurs roam; a monster in your closet. (YMMV – compose your own list) You don’t have any doubts about any of those things, do you? You’d be happy to admit to their existence if you ever had any evidence of it, correct? But you are certain that they don’t. Well, just add “god” to that list for me. No more complicated than that. The thing just isn’t there. Is that just my opinion? Sure. Do you differ in your thoughts? I imagine so. But how is it so hard to understand not believing in a thing when you yourself have so many things that you don’t believe in?Report

              • Avatar James B Franks says:

                I contend that there is a big difference between “I believe X doesn’t exist” and “Since there is no evidence for X it does not exist.”

                 Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                I find the discrete fabric of reality a fairly compelling piece of evidence for some external G-d.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus says:

                I suppose that’s where we part company. I imagine that, in polite conversation, I have probably said: “Since there is no evidence for X, I believe that X doesn’t exist.” And never felt that the two clauses were either contradictory or redundant. Your two sentences there, at least in this context, seem to express the same thing to me. Just a different phrasing of basically the same thought.

                Is it the word “believe” that gives us trouble? Here’s a sentence: “Yes, I believe that 2 plus 2 equals 4.” I have no trouble with that sentence. And that sentence doesn’t begin to imply any uncertainty about the sum mentioned.

                While the words “believe” and “belief” can be extremely important to a religious person, they are also just words used in day-to-day conversation. “I believe I’ll have the cheeseburger.” “Well, that’s beyond belief!” etc. It’s an accident of English that an atheist says: “I don’t believe in god.” That’s a different usage (ironically enough) from when a religious person says: “I believe!”Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                I contend that there is no difference at all.  In fact no one should ever say the first, unless they believe the second.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              The Atheist I’ve spoken to always frame it as, I believe there is no god. This is probably, as you have noted, an artifact of society but that is not really relevant.

              Atheists do talk that way. But I think it’s a result of scope ambiguities in natural language. What I mean when I say that ‘I believe there is no god’ is short for the following: I believe that the thing theists believe in does not exist. Usually, I mean that in a very narrow way: the Judeo-Christian god, or Zeus, or spiderwoman. It’s that thing which I’m saying doesn’t exist (or really, that the concept describes no object, or that the name doesn’t have a referent). And I think this is true for lots of atheists: what they believe is that the object described by any particular theist doesn’t exist. At this point, atheism is an argument by cases, where the atheist rejects any particular account of the theistic object so described.

              But part of the problem in talking about atheism is that the concept of god can be so wide as to include many things an atheist might believe in. So sometimes a Christian will respond to me by explaining that God is just energy, a life force, a spirit that is present in all things and somehow ties it all together. At that point, I’m much more agnostic or even trending in the direction of theism: if that’s what we mean by ‘god’, then I’m quite likely a believer.

              But I’m still an atheist about Jehovah.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                I’m not convinced he actually listens closely and impartially enough to determine that is the framing that they present, rather than framing through which he hears.  Part of that relates to his presentation of the Atheist he has always spoken to as a singular entity.  Yes, he has probably spoken to an Atheist who believes there is no God (which does not imply they believe it with 100% certainty).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                You may be right. Personally, I think of atheism as the rejection of specific accounts of deities. The burden is on the theist to make his case and in so doing will provide an account of the entity under discussion. And necessarily so – he has to define, or at least ascribe some set of properties, to the entity which he claims exists. So the dynamic seems to me as follows: the theist defines the type of entity under discussion, and the interlocutor either accepts or rejects the existence of that deity. Sometimes the description is incoherent (the traditional definition of Jehovah is like that) and easy to reject, and sometime the definition is indistinguishable from a complete description of the world, and so trivially accepted.

                It seems to me that ascribing a fully general certainty that there is no god to atheists misses the point in a pretty substantial way. Since atheists are basically rejecting specific definitions of god offered by others, their certainty that X doesn’t exist will quite likely change depending on what values we plug into X.

                 Report

              • Avatar James B Franks says:

                Heh, that’s what I get for using generalizations in this type of discussion. I’ll acknowledge Stillwater is probably correct that in most cases it is shorthand. However discussions about belief can be contentious enough without trying to determine if any subtext is present. As a result in religious discussions I treat any use of the word belief without backing rational as pure belief.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      When we’re dealing with things as complex as the origins of the universe, conscience, the nature of ethics, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, if one is tempted to say that one knows the rational position, one is probably being irrational. As Rose said in her post, the word “rational” is doing a lot of work here, and it’s an ambiguous word at best. There are, it seems to me, a lot of rational positions on God and the nature of things, because so much depends not only on gaps in our knowledge bigger than all of the filled in spaces combined, but also on our basic ideas of knowledge, reason, cause and effect, contingency and necessity, and a bunch of other things.

      This is not to say that it is irrational to choose a position, just that it’s irrational to suggest that, because you’ve chosen one, that position is the only rational one.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        This is not to say that it is irrational to choose a position, just that it’s irrational to suggest that, because you’ve chosen one, that position is the only rational one.

        Then I suppose that you think that for any set of evidence E about a given proposition P (with respect to a given alternative Q), there are more than 1 credence levels which are maximally justified.

        I’m not sure how this is plausible.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Murali, you and I definitely have different epistemologies. I’m a pragmatist, and more than a bit of a nihilist, and you appear to be an evidentialist, a realist, and perhaps more than a bit of a positivist. However, nothing I’ve said suggests that there must be different credence levels which are maximally justified, merely that there are multiple mutually incompatible propositions for which it is possible to achieve a maximally justified credence level. This is why, even after 2600 years of bickering about what causality is, there are still different, mutually incompatible views on the subject.  I doubt the people who hold, say, a modern transference theory of causality (say one of the recent versions of Salmon’s “conserved quantity” theory) or a Thomist view of causation as causal powers (the modern day version of which would be dispositionalists, or something close to it), feel agnostic about their view of causality. They certainly don’t act as though they do. And it also turns out that your view of causality will go a long way towards determining how you interpret, and whether you buy, certain arguments for non-contingent beings. And once we’ve sorted out theories of causation, we’ve still got contingency and necessity to deal with, and after that, a bunch of other stuff as well.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

             I doubt the people who hold, say, a modern transference theory of causality (say one of the recent versions of Salmon’s “conserved quantity” theory) or a Thomist view of causation as causal powers (the modern day version of which would be dispositionalists, or something close to it), feel agnostic about their view of causality. They certainly don’t act as though they do.

            Well, I haven’t done much of any work on theories of causation. I’ve done some modal logic, but nothing really in depth.

            That said, since they have different views of causality and are likely aware of the various arguments in favour of and against those views of causality, the fact that they are not agnostic indicates that something has gone wrong somewhere. At least one of the groups must be responding improperly right? And this would be the case even if we had no way of telling who in fact was responding correctly.Report

    • I think of agnosticism, theism, and atheism more as decisions than beliefs.  As Burt said a while ago in a thread comment, most people who have looked into the matter are probably familiar with the pro- and con- arguments when it comes to atheism and most, if they’re honest, recognize that none of the arguments is dispositive.  (If I’m misconstruing what Burt wrote or believes, I apologize, but this is how I remember his comment.)

      If we’re talking only about absolute truth value–whether once and for all one can say “god,” however defined, does or does not exist–then I suppose agnosticism is the only rational position.  But if we’re talking about how we relate to the uncertainty in our daily lives and to our contemplation of our place in the universe and to our relation with the world, then either of the three positions–and the seemingly infinitely nuanced versions that approximate one of the three positions–is a decision to believe or not to believe.

       Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        nah, there are quite a few ideas of what god is that do not require agnosticism. Define G-d as “the best arbiter of relative good and evil” — aka “the most persuasive entity” and you practically HAVE to have a G-d (except in the case of a tie)Report

        • It seems to me that defining god thusly is not capable of proof or disproof, although I’m certainly no philosopher.  Even if it is so capable, I would modify what I wrote (i.e., admit defeat and move the goal posts a bit) to say that the decision to define god / G-d in a certain way can be itself ultimately reducible to a decision of whether one chooses to be a theist, agnostic, or atheist.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Definitions are assertions, I’ll not say otherwise, they stand as fundamental premises to an argument, not as the argument itself.

            That said, if G-d has no relation to good and evil (which, empirically speaking, must always be relative and not absolute things), what the hell is G-d, anyhow? [Smart Ass Answer: Probably Evil.][Decent answer, if weird: the sense of community I feel in church.]Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              try logical space on for size. Logical space is what makes existence possible. Logical space is eternal and transcends all actual and possible existence. Logical space contains all that is good within it (also all that is evil, but we can ignore that or not as we like)Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          Define G-d as “the best arbiter of relative good and evil” — aka “the most persuasive entity”

          Just because someone turns out to be the best arbiter of relative good and evil doesnt mean that they are the most persuasive.

          Also, if God is the best arbiter of good and evil, does that make me God? *grin*Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            without an “absolute” measurable “good” or “evil” – the only way you can determine best arbiter is by near-universal consensus (aka the person trying to claim murder is good? he’s Wrong, because most people would agree that he’s wrong, and he can’t persuade them otherwise).Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              without an “absolute” measurable “good” or “evil”

              Errm, there is an objective moral standard.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                I’m an empiricist. How do you measure whether the Electromagnetic force is good or evil? How about a stone? If it’s not an intrinsic quality of a particular object/force, then it’s gotta be relative. Something that seems good to you, may seem evil to me. I think that poses a problem for an objective moral standard (which you haven’t bothered defining. maybe you ought, before I figure out the weeds are over my head and get rather lost).Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                You’re making over-reaching claims.

                First of all, objective moral standard doesn’t imply that everything must be either good or evil, so the electromagnetic force may very well be neither.

                Second, the electromagnetic field of say, the Earth, is for all intents and purposes a constant thing, yes?  (granted, it inverts, yadda yadda)  And yet how you experience it standing over here on the ground vs over there in orbit does appear to be relative.  And it is, actually, relative, but you’d have to be moving at near relativistic speeds or be very small or very very dense for that to matter.

                If the human moral universe is rate-limited to low speeds, medium densities, and non-subatomic sizes, it would be for all intents and purposes non-relativistic, and you can make objective moral claims, yes?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Okay. If something is intrinsically good or evil, I should be able to measure that, reliably and with instruments. Tell me your instruments.[totally sorry if i’m switching the playing field about on you. I’m not certain I am, which probably says something about the intentionality of such a switch.]

                Taking your last graf, you can tell me whether a gram of bismuth is in fact good or evil (or neither) — with a measurable quantity that agreement is not needed for.

                 Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                Hey, we haven’t found the Higgs yet.  We’re not even sure we have the right equipment for it.Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                We used to do lots of horrible things to our fellow humans, smashing infants against rocks among them (see Psalms 137:9). We don’t do these things with great frequency because we’re social creatures and living in close knit communities requires that we behave “morally” towards each other. If we didn’t love our neighbor, or at least not shoot them when they chopped our hedges too short, we wouldn’t be able to live together.

                Look at chimpanzees. They have very close knit social groups and have morals and taboos very similar to ours. They aren’t perfect, just like us, but they developed them independent of religion and belief in God. If it’s possible for them to do it, why is it such a stretch to believe that we can?Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                Depending on your school of thought there are measurable rubrics for judging the Good or Evil of an action.  Things are not good or evil.  Actions are.  An item is good or evil only in much as it is used (ie put into action).

                A nuclear bomb is neither good nor evil.  The act of dropping it on an unsuspecting civilian populace may or may not be good or evil (I’m not commenting on it) but it can be measured as one or the other.

                How do you measure?  Well that depends on the school of ethical thought you follow.

                You measure Good/Evil with Kantianism by judging how well the action should be made into an Universal Will, meaning “what if everyone did that?  Is that a good thing over all?”  A Hedonist says you should measure the pleasure derived from the action and judge it against any harm it may do.  A Utilitarian says you need to judge maximum positive outcome for the most people, offset with the generel negative outcomes.

                It’s not as precise as measuring weights or field strength, but most moral philosophers will say that it is there.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Derp,

                Yeah, but see, I remember pogroms too. And the nazis smashed quite a few jewish babies against walls.

                I dunno about all that. I’m not really trying to defend a belief in god here. Simply that good and evil are extrinsic, and thus inherently relative.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                teach,

                how do you decide which school of thought? perhaps by which one has persuaded you best?Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                If good and evil are extrinsic, they are arbitrary. Good and evil have to be grounded in our experience to be objective.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                What school of thought is best?

                Well.. there is the deliema.. two different moral philsophers can get to different conclusoins based on the tool they use.  No good answer there, I fear, other than I find Kantianism to be the best.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Kant’s fine, as far as he goes.  But Kant’s got his problems.

                Pascal says not even the most reasonable man is allowed to be a judge in his own case.   Kant’s whole duty framework falls off the rails in a great steaming wreck, right there.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                What school of thought is best?

                What makes you think the right answer is knowable?

                Me, I like to look at a given specific problem P and apply a bunch of different schools of thought and see if there’s overlap.

                If a Kantian, a Utilitarian, a Hegelian, and an Aristotelian can all agree that P is bad, I think you might be onto something.  If all four agree that P is not bad, that tells you something else, too.Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                We can measure outcomes of moral decisions and decide which is best, aka consequentialism. You don’t need to measure the components of the decision itself.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                That still involves decisions, and who is to say that your decisions are better than mine? At the end, we come down to “you’re a half bubble off plumb” or you’re not. (a better argument against mine would probably be: we don’t persuade people on a decision by decision basis, we persuade people “hi, i’m good and sane” and then people are inclined to believe — whereas one can define persuasive as the ability to move someone from a pre-set view.)Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                We can argue about the outcomes of decisions to decide which is best. We tend to prefer moral decisions because if we didn’t we wouldn’t survive as a speicies. Preference for a certain set of morals is hard-wired into virtually all of us. People that have crossed-wiring spend their days in the pokey.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Derp,

                Okay, so it’s fucking moral to let your brother get eaten alive by a snake, while you watch? And then to screw his wife afterward?

                Because that’s what’s fucking hardwired into our heads.

                 

                I suppose if you wanna call that moral, you may…and it certainly does help with the survival of your genes, even if the species might be helped if you actually saved the person in danger (assume you’ve got ten friends who are also all watching).Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                Why would I try to save my brother from a strictly evolutionary perspective? Well, my brother and I share very similar DNA, so my hard-wired inclination is always going to be to protect my closest genetic relatives, children first, obviously. Me and my offspring have a better chance of survival if I have more relatives to help. Furthermore, if people are watching, then I might also try to save him because of peer pressure and the potential social consequences of not stepping in. There may be some circumstances where I’m better off letting him be eaten, of course, but I don’t think a moral ethic that appeals to a God would require you to jump in and save him EVERY time, especially if that meant abandoning your offspring.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Derp,

                I believe you are trying to say I’m wrong — that vore is not hardwired into human skulls. That’s flatly not the case.

                While it’s true that you can come up with plausible reasons why it SHOULDN”T be hardwired into our skulls, it doesn’t change the matter that it is. And that the stated willingness to sacrifice your brother — and then instinctively fuck his wife afterwards, really really fucks with the idea that morality is hardwired into our brains.

                (what we do mostly got: hardwiring against sibling incest. notably NOT hardwiring against parent child incest.)Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                I’m an empiricist

                My condolences. *grin*

                How do you measure whether the Electromagnetic force is good or evil? How about a stone?

                Just because objective moral standards exist doesnt mean that it is an appropriate standard to apply for every thing. Tensile strength is an objective property, but it is certainly inappropriate to apply it to non-solids. (or maybe even non-metals)

                If it’s not an intrinsic quality of a particular object/force, then it’s gotta be relative

                Depends on what you mean by intrinsic. Also, right and wrong are not properties of objects or forces. They are properties of actions, dispositions, institutions, principles, motives etc.

                which you haven’t bothered defining. maybe you ought, before I figure out the weeds are over my head and get rather lost

                By moral standard, I mean standards which are valid for all possible rational beings. By valid, I don’t mean that everyone accepts that standard, only that the standard applies and that any action that meets that standard is right and any action which fails to do so is wrong.  (This is a very rough statement of my actual views and so is quite crude and not exactly accurate. But it will do for now)

                I won’t go about demonstrating what the right standard is as that would take a whole post to do and I still have my series of jurisprudence posts to finish. I might change my mind if there is enough popular demand.

                For now, I would like to show that it is incoherent to deny that there is an objective standard even at the most fundamental level.

                For example, I’m sure you agree with the following statement:

                P: Murder is wrong just because most people think that it is wrong.

                Now look at this more general statement.

                G: An action is wrong if most people think that it is wrong.

                For P to be true, then some general principle like G will have to be true. It need not be G specifically and could be more complicated, but some G-like statement which is more general than P will have to be true such that P is true in virtue of being an instantiation of G-like.

                However, the truth of any G-like statement would be an objective one. It or something even more general would hold always and for everyone. If it were not the case, then there would be some instances when murder was not wrong even when most people thought that it was wrong (even in those instances) i.e. P could not be true.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              near-universal consensus (aka the person trying to claim murder is good? he’s Wrong, because most people would agree that he’s wrong, and he can’t persuade them otherwise).

              Is it possible that even if everyone agreed that X was morally right, it could still be morally wrong? Suppose that everyone who is capable of agency agrees that half of all babies born should be slowly tortured as a form of entertainment. In the scenario, everyone agrees this is morally permissible; there are no dissenting voices. Does that make it morally right?

              The suggestion here isn’t that consensus shouldn’t be the arbiter of morality, but that it in fact isn’t.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                I don’t think morality is akin to the color red — a biologically measurable quantity that we can develop universal intuitions on via a study of an extremely limited subset of humans.

                … you probably don’t want to use the babies example on me. I’ve mentioned a limited and circumscribed support for infanticide at some point around here.

                … I honestly think I can come up with a reasonable biological “that wouldn’t happen” — barring some sort of really dramatic plague leaving only pre-childbearing folks around. In which case we’ve already got problems.

                So, if it’s not consensus, how do we assign good and evil to things, taking for the moment that they are extrinsic quantities?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                how do we assign good and evil to things, taking for the moment that they are extrinsic quantities?

                I’m not sure how to answer that. I think you’re right that as a society, we assign good and evil to things based almost entirely on social consensus. But doing so doesn’t mean that consensus is therefore right (or morally correct). So the issue is whether any particular action can be justified independently of the fact that its accepted by consensus. On the theory your proposing, social evolution selects certain types of behaviors which promote social cohesion and survivability and therefore increase the likelihood of passing on genes, and those behaviors are the morally good ones. But even on that account – that there is consensus support that P is morally permissible – it’s not consensus which determines what’s right and wrong, it’s that consensus results from the utility of adopting certain practices. So consensus and justification can be distinguished.

                And along those lines, another way to assign good and evil to things is based on their intrinsic properties. In the case mentioned above, there is, it seems to me, a moral property internal to the action of torturing babies for entertainment: it’s either morally permissible, or morally wrong. And if so, then it’s an objective property of that action (as described!). And I’m not sure there is any way to justify torturing babies for entertainment is morally permissible, while there are arguments that it’s morally wrong. So in that case, I think we (or at least I) can say that even tho there may be a consensus among the moral agents that torturing babies for entertainment is morally permissible, it’s still morally wrong.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Stillwater,

                consensus — or more broadly construed, “argument” is the only way we as a society can make a decision. Otherwise it’s pickup-sticks, with everyone going in different directions. I think it’s possible for an argument to be persuasive enough to change the consensus — and that if that’s the case,t he arguemnt stands regardless of where the consensus is in terms of changing (“they’ll believe in the big bang when they’re dead”).

                That’s derp’s proposition, social evolution making things good. I’m debunking it above with vore (human brains are dumb, criss-crossed things).

                You can’t assign intrinsic properties to actions that can’t be measured, but only told afterwards by “effects.” I shoot a gun — is it moral, immoral, neither? Just depends on what I hit, eh? Except not, for a lot of things, because you have to throw in the whys… It’s a mess, and if you can’t tell me what constitutes an action (other than perhaps “it has an effect on a moral being”), we’re well into fuzzyland. And fuzzyland doesn’t have intrinsics because fuzzyland is, well, fuzzy. We’re not talking “waveform” fuzzy, either.

                Justify torturing babies for entertainment? Sure. Assume that’s needed for reproduction, and that that is the only way babies can come into being. Yawn. Ain’t so intrinsic now is it? [refer to the vore example above for “exactly how implausible is this???”]Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Kimmi, in the above I was understanding the word ‘consensus’ narrowly: general consent rather than shared reasons. On the broader view you meant by the word, then yes, arguments come into play. So on that score we agree.

                On the idea that there are no unmeasurable intrinsic properties of actions, I have to disagree. In the above mentioned scenario, as it’s described (that is, not adding in causal or consequential justifications for why people are torturing babies for entertainment), there is clearly (to me anyway) a moral property in play which is not measurable, and which is internal to the action itself. And I think that if you consider your own moral judgment of the case as it’s described, that is, without trying to provide sufficient conditions for why the action is taking place – since by hypothesis there is no other reason for the action than entertainment – you’ll see that you do have a moral judgment, and that the judgment is grounded in unmeasurable internal moral properties of the agents and the action.

                Of course, I could be wrong about that. And it wouldn’t be the first time.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Sorry, not gonna take this one lying down (not declarin’ war either).

                Your example is a relatively complex series of actions, removing any one of which would change the entire construct. Intrinsic things have to be intrinsic to “something” — and you have to be able to say “well, that’s a thing” and be content enough to assign it into a bin of “good” or “evil” or “neutral.”

                Take an action: “I shot someone” — which bucket does it go into? Put a gun to my head, and I say neutral. But it’s really “I dunno, give me more information”Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                Are you saying that the morality of shooting someone is ahem… relative?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Derp,

                Yup. More in the utilitarian sense than anything else. You can shoot someone and have it be a good thing, or a bad thing. Based on how all the scales finaly balance out.

                about the only thing i’m kantian about is torture. because… of reasons.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Kimmi, sorry about not getting back to this sooner, but work and all …

                Your example is a relatively complex series of actions, removing any one of which would change the entire construct. Intrinsic things have to be intrinsic to “something” — and you have to be able to say “well, that’s a thing” and be content enough to assign it into a bin of “good” or “evil” or “neutral.”

                The intrinsic moral property that’s wrong in the action is causing harm to others without justification. That could be cashed out as a rights violation, or on utilitarian grounds. Of course, there are properties intrinsic to individuals which account any particular account of why it’s wrong. So, let’s assume that you’re a utilitarian about morality since pain and pleasure are actual, real (tho probably not measurable) properties of individuals. If so, then torturing babies for pleasure is wrong. Unless, of course, the torturers derive more pleasure than the babies experience pain. But if so, that’s a reason to reject utilitarianism, since on the face of it, no amount of pleasure, all on its own, could justify torturing babies. It’d still be wrong.

                And yes, I agree with you that changing any one variable in the action changes the entire construct. That’s why the construct is constructed as it has been. ANd by hypothesis, you can’t change the construct. It’s a given, and we make our moral judgments about that action, not some other.

                Take an action: “I shot someone” — which bucket does it go into? Put a gun to my head, and I say neutral. But it’s really “I dunno, give me more information”

                The action of killing a person for no reason whatsoever is different than the action of killing a person in self-defense, or killing a person because your family will be tortured if you don’t. The event of one person deliberately killing another is prima facie always wrong, it seems to me, and is only morally acceptable when the action which comprises the event contains other moral properties which justify doing so.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                Stillwater,

                Okay. Allow me to take a somewhat real world example.

                Man shoots innocent girl dead. [bad].

                By doing so, man sends message to TehEvulDoer to stop torturing little girls. [good]

                Instead, tehevuldoer sacrifices the girls to his favorite deity [probably still bad].

                This prevents more children from being raised in white slavery [probably good].

                There isn’t something discrete here. You can’t tell me what constitutes an action — because an action is a compound thing that isn’t well defined. Since an action can’t be well-defined, it can’t have intrinsic qualities, but only things that we, from our own perspective, assign to it.

                The little brat in the example above? Probably sees all of those as bad, because they all result in her death.

                (also, justification treads really really far into “why I did it” and isn’t part of an action.)

                The worst part of my example is that the good or badness of one person’s actions depends on another person’s actions.

                My example is a layered series of actions, not one action.

                I don’t agree that the act of killing (even murdering) someone else is automatically wrong, absent extenuating circumstances (although my belief in this does assume an imperfect, often misused judicial system).Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                Kim, we can do a reasonable job of separating act from motive and consequences. There may be some gray area about whether pointing the gun and squeezing the trigger is the action and the girl dying is the consequence Or we can count the wwhole act of shooting the girl dead as the action. But it is certainly more reasonable to count the stuff that the evil doer and the white slavery stuff as not part of the action.

                There is a good reason that such stuff is not part of the action. Utilitarians would often count that stuff as part of the consequences. Also. Even if the consequences are uncertain, utilitarians presumethat there is a way to tally up all the consequences. It may be that we wouldn’t be able to find out what all the consequences are until the cold death of the universe. It doesnt follow that such stuff is relative. In a deterministic universe, whether an action will produce the best consequences (according to some theory of best) is a fixed fact of the world. In a non-deterministic universe, there is no fact of the matter about whether an action produced the best consequences until the universe has ended. There is nothing relativistic about either case. The mere fact that the fact about something is indeterminate until some time T, when it does become determinate does not imply it is relative.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Not precisely my take on the issue, Pierre, but that’s close enough for government work.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      There’s a difference between absolute certainty and being certain enough. I’ve long advocated a continuum rather than a categorical taxonomy of theist-agnostic-atheist. What is the percertage of your certainty in the belief of the existence of God? If it’s 0% or 100%, either way, you are asserting an absolute, certain, verifiable and verified, indisputable fact. The postulate of God is simply not susceptible to absolute certainty; we are all agnostics. It’s less fun, but placing yourself on a continuum (math is a convenient but not necessary way of marking your place on it) is significantly more accurate.

      I once further postulated that most people cluster at or near the extreme ends of the continuum. But turns out that’s not so — yes, there’s lots of people like me somewhere in the 1-5% range, and lots of people in the 95-99% range, but there’s also a whole bunch who identify near the midpoint, or the two-thirds-point, or anywhere else. So now I postulate that it’s a true continuum, with people all over it more or less evenly distributed. It’s just that the ones near the extreme ends are the ones who tend to get all up in your face about it.Report

      • I like to think of myself as an agnosto-Christian.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Obviously, I’m more or less a plus-1 on this.  However, I actually do think that being vocal is also pretty well distributed across the distribution as it actually exists as well, except right at the middle, where people do tend to be quieter, I think.  But at the same time, I also don’t think the actual distribution is all that even.  It’s not extremely polarized, but I think there are clusters solidly in the 25 & 75 ranges that tail out in either direction, and then a smaller cluster right in the middle that also tails out.  And then maybe some small (or medium) clusters at 1-5 and 95-99 as well.Report

      • Avatar Derp says:

        I think it’s probably a bit of a confirmation bias to say that most people cluster at the ends. It just so happens that the people who burn the most calories exist at the ends so we don’t hear from the cluster in the middle.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          Well, he actually said he used to think that, but now he thinks belief is evenly distributed, but vocality is clustered at the ends.  So basically, what you said.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        Richard Dawkins actually talks about this in The God Delusion, where he describes a seven point scale.  1 means a theist who believes in god(s) with 100% certainty, 7 is an atheist who believes there is a 0% chance of any gods existing.

        I think it’s enlightening to the atheist / agnostic debate to consider that Dawkins considers himself a 6, not a 7.  If your definition of atheist excludes Richard Dawkins, you’re doing it wrong.

        In truth, outside of formal logic it’s just about impossible to hold anything to be true with a 100% or 0% probability.  All our day-to-day beliefs are probabilistic.  Why have a separate word for having probabilistic beliefs about gods?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      While you’re correct in principle, I’m not sure about how that works out in practice.   It seems to me the Atheist is saying “I don’t believe in Religion’s God.”   I’ve yet to hear even the most principled atheist proclaim he’s proven there is no God.Report

      • Avatar Derp says:

        Because you can’t. You can’t disprove what hasn’t been proven. Best we can do is explain why the arguments for his/her/its existence aren’t valid.

        Besides, the burden of proof isn’t on us. It’s so frustrating that in this one area people who has chosen not to believe in a given assertion are also labeled as believers. People who don’t follow soccer are not labeled fans of not-soccer. I understand that the ubiquity of religious belief necessitates a name for people who lack a religious belief, but it is innacurate and intellectually dishonest to claim that lack of belief = belief.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          thisReport

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          All of which goes to my point about not believing in Religion’s God.  If you really want to use the not-soccer metaphor, would that the not-soccer-ites would qut making so much noise about their dislike of soccer and its fans.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Why should they? The soccer fans are loud, drunk, boisterous, and often destructive, and they’ve shaped our world (for ill and for some good, which is the reason I am somewhat quieter than some not-soccer-fans).  Just as surely as believers’ not-belief is often silent as to belief in no-God or no belief in no-God (meaning they oughtn’t to have to admit they “don’t know” to avoid being labeled believers in no-God) – just as surely as all that – believers are meanwhile loud and active and world-shaping.  Why should someone’s response be passive or quietist merely because their alternative viewpoint is no-belief rather than belief in no-God?Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              non-believers’ not-belief, that isReport

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let’s straighten out the grammar here.   Those who complain about soccer hooligans are not fans of soccer hooligans.   Whatever they have to say about soccer itself is just so much trash talking.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                True enough, though that doesn’t make what they say false or true.  But the point is, there is a lot to react to in the hooliganism, so however absolute or reasoned whatever they have to say about soccer, why must they be particularly restrained in reacting to the hooliganism?  Certainly they say plenty about the hooliganism itself while throwing in some views that, yes, are strictly non-sequiturs to those behaviors.  But so what?  If you act in a way that is patently objectionable or destructive, why shouldn’t I voice my views about both your behavior as well as  about what i understand to be your reasons for it?Report

        • Avatar A Teacher says:

          But you can.

          Goal:  There is no god.

          Assume:  There is a god.  He is good and compassionate.

          Contradiction:  There is evil in the world.  A good compassionate all powerful being cannot allow that.

          Ergo our assumption must be false and either there is no god or He is not good and compassionate.

          Conclusion:  There is no god.

           Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Who says god needs to be good or compassionate? Those seem odd traits to give to a manifestly disinterested G-d.Report

          • Avatar Will H. says:

            A matter already dealt with:
            The fining pot for silver,
            and the Furnace for gold;
            but the Lord tries men’s heart’s.

            You might have more of an argument with the predestination/freewill thing.Report

            • Avatar Derp says:
              “Now, let’s take a case of someone who’s been dealt a bad hand: what about Fraulein Friesel in Austria whose father kept her in a dungeon where she didn’t see daylight for twenty-four years and came down most nights to rape and to sodomize her, often in front of the children… I want you just to take a moment to—since you’re so interested in the downtrodden and the helpless—imagine how she must have begged him. Imagine how she must have pleaded. Imagine for how long. Imagine how she must of prayed everyday, how she must have beseeched Heaven. Imagine, for twenty-four years. And no. No answer at all. Nothing! No-thing! NOTHING! Imagine how those children must have felt. Now, you say, ‘That’s all right that she went through that, because she’ll get a better deal in another life.’ I ask you if you can be morally or ethically serious… And Heaven did watch it with indifference, because it knows that that score will later on be settled. So it was well worth her going through it — she’ll have a better time next time. I don’t see how you can look anyone—ANYONE—-in the face, or live with yourself and say anything so hideously, wickedly immoral as that, or even imply it. There. That’s all I’ll say.”

              — Hitch

              Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Poor old Hitch.   Just one begged question after the other.   This, from a man who resolutely backed the people who instituted Abu Ghraib and the secret prisons.

                No, Mr. Hitchens, it really doesn’t matter what you think about some poor girl in a basement.

                And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                That’s nice.

                Really, I’m not so sure the any God would be concerned with human conduct or conditions.
                Perhaps a casual interest.
                So, once we get past the idea of God as micro-manager, what then?Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                If you don’t think God intervenes in human affairs, there’s no problem of evil.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                Do you claim that evil has no purpose?Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                Evil, then, does have a purpose?Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

            Freewill collapses your waveform.Report

            • Avatar Derp says:

              The existence of freewill may mean that God isn’t directly responsible for suffering, but it also means God is indifferent to the suffering imposed by others. It’s the same principle that allows us to lay some blame on parents when their children are criminals. They should have done something, right?Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                you assume that god can touch small things without breaking teh entire experiment. I find this unlikely, judging by my knowledge of large scale models.Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                If he can intervene but doesn’t, he’s indifferent. If he can’t intervene, he’s not omnipotent.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                so? I provided a definition above about a g-d who isn’t omnipotent.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                But it also means God is indifferent to the suffering imposed by others.

                Well, that’s hauling an awful lot of assumes with it.  Who says He/She/It/They is indifferent?  Maybe there’s a Hell, after all.

                If your child has a broken arm, you  have to set it to have it heal properly.  Setting it causes the child some pain.  We don’t intend the pain, it’s a side effect to be minimized.  We don’t intend the child to break their arm, but wrapping them in a bubble robs them of a bunch of experience.  If we have free will, we can choose to do evil.  Allowing us to choose to do evil causes other people pain.  We don’t intend the pain, it’s a side effect to be minimized.

                Also, there’s nothing that says that an omnipotent being needs to be entirely beneficent.  Maybe God isn’t omniscient.  Maybe He/She/It/They doesn’t know, doesn’t want to meddle.  Maybe He/She/It/They doesn’t measure things using the same metrics of utility you do.  Finally, God could be evil, too… in which case, all sorts of eminently plausible explanations pop out of the woodwork.

                None of these things definitively rule out the possibility that a paranormal being exists.

                It’s the same principle that allows us to lay some blame on parents when their children are criminals. They should have done something, right?

                There’s a whole pile of “It depends” in there.Report

              • Avatar Derp says:

                But we aren’t talking about a parent setting a child’s broken arm. We are talking about the most powerful being in the universe. Are you saying God is incapable of setting a broken arm without inflicting pain?

                The problem of evil isn’t an argument against all Gods. It’s specific to those that claim omnibenevolence.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                One thing at a time.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                G-d can’t know everything. that would collapse the waveform — which would eliminate observed phenomena. Heck, even something that isn’t G-d, but is rather powerful can’t know everythingReport

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Could you construct an argument that there is no evil in the world?

            Sure, there’s stuff we don’t like, stuff that disgusts us, stuff that our culture says is “bad”, stuff that involves coercion… but, really, good and evil are as much societal constructs as gender or race. It’s a cultural concept to be overcome, not embraced as “the way things have always been”.

            I mean, what’s your definition of evil? Something self-serving?

             Report

            • Avatar Derp says:
              “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
              ? Solzhenitsyn

              Report

            • Avatar Derp says:

              There’s a great Star Trek ep. about this too. Kirk splits into Good Kirk and Bad Kirk. Hilarity ensues.Report

      • Avatar Jeff Wong says:

        I used to really despise Christians and Christianity. Of course, I was never aware of the existence of Christianity as a thing. Churches are in technology parks in the West. My family has Chinese “ancestor worship”. It’s a combination of believing in ghosts, luck, karma, dead semi-legendary historical figures who are deified for some reason (think Odysseus), you don’t question it because the real world and that world don’t really exist at the same time. You can’t take it literally because if you did then that would mean your grandmother could see you naked and Etc. The Christian God is not necessary to dispute because that’s for Christians, so why does it matter to me.

        Anywho, in junior high the Chinese Christian brigade deployed to spread the Word with pamphlets saying how the World was spoiled since people turned away from God in 1914 and that’s why World War 1 started and it’s all been bad since then. But IF we all turned to God and accepted Jesus in our hearts, the world would be a better place. But what does that mean and how would that work. How does believing in anything fix anything in reality? Is it magic? Must be. More miracles will happen if we all just believe in God. Sounds pretty stupid. How could Jesus save me? I didn’t exist. That is logically impossible. Did I wonder how I was created? No, my parents created me. How could the Creator be my Father? That makes no sense. You people must be crazy.

        It’s a loaded question to ask any human being if they believe in God? A What? Why would I? Just because you say I should? Of course, at this age at our school we started to have evolution vs. creationism debates. Pretty much your standard debate that breaks down into religion vs. atheism ala Richard Dawkins.

        Oh and then this was in the 90’s when Hong Kong made all of these awesome patriotic martial arts movies about Wong Fei-Hung depicting the period of Western imperialism and Christian missionaries and this violent, unjust spread of this absurd religion to conquer the world. It was also wrong for Chinese people to be Christian. Christianity is a European white people’s thing. It doesn’t belong anywhere else.

        Oh and then I learned about American history and the history of exploration. The Christians did the SAME thing to the people who were here! This virulent, and violent religion must be stopped! Look what they did in the Inquisition and the Crusades! Crazy people killing other people over some stupid land that isn’t their home and even if their religion used to be “there”, oh well.

        So of course, it is Christianity and European culture that is the unjust oppressor, the invader. Wasn’t good enough to exploit other people they had to take over people’s minds like an infection. Is it in the water? Who are these people and why are they so self-righteous? They won’t stop until you’re one of them and when you are, you stop questioning. You’re no longer really alive.

        Of course, Chinese people seemed pretty superior because we were inherently smarter than lazy, white Americans who are unsmart. My parents are immigrants and we came to this country because we are better than them and will work harder than them. But they hold us down and make fun of us and tell us to go back home. Fuck ’em. We deserve better and they only are on top because of their socializing and back slapping.

        Perhaps you can imagine what my worldview might have been at the time. White people were unjustly occupying this meritocratic society, and holding down the smarter and more qualified of us. And all because they had guns and the desire to conquer the world and subjugate all peoples to their ideology. Because of Christianity, white people dragged us into the Middle East fighting over this arbitrary piece of land and boring me to death when we watched Peter Jennings on ABC News. Why do Christian people cause so much trouble?

        Of course, I never associated being American with Christianity. But I knew it was on the march and it was trying to spread. One good thing about communism in China is that at least it kept the Christian thing from spreading into holy land. Then Newt Gingrich and the fundamentalists showed up and told me I didn’t belong in this country and I was a threat to the real way of life, this hokey fantasy that only exists in dreams and, even then, is in tacky watercolors.

        Perhaps you can get a sense for how a child might find Christianity a threat that’s very much in your face. I did have Christian friends. It was unavoidable and they were cute. But really, I felt it only right that one day Christianity and their Pope must be “wiped from the pages of history.” If only, then things would be in their proper place.

        I never had a problem with Christ the figure, and I never said anything bad about Christ. But none of the rest of it seemed very good. It wasn’t until grad school that I mean some “quiet Christians” who were gentle and respectful. They wouldn’t hide their Christianity. It was either not something they really talked about or they were willing to answer questions but not really press very hard. And there were those people who attended church but weren’t Christian but were constantly trying. I developed a lot of respect for Christianity and Christian themes out of this. There are some very good and universal ideas there. These were people who were doing it right. Oh, BTW, they were Asian too. So just another point for racial superiority.

        I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and obviously I needed to keep out the thoughts about how stupid or wicked Christians are. My friends and I would make fun of Christians and Christianity, but never in mixed company and never among people who you weren’t sure were Christians or not. Of course, as I became more aware of the ease of mocking Christians, I began to feel very badly for people who I didn’t know were Christian. It would be so wrong to make fun of them. Like using “gay” as an epithet in front of an actual “gay” person. This atheism wave I dislike because it must make a lot of good Christians feel bad.

        Well, this was fun to write and I have disqualified myself from public office. Yes, I know a white person could never get away with writing something like this, but it surprises me that I could swap in a white Christian conservative in place of myself and Islam for Christianity and it looks like how someone might have thought about Islam over the past decade.Report

  11. As a historian, I used to be a pretty strong Marxist, to the extent I understood Marxism.  I actually hadn’t (and still haven’t) read much Marx or Marxist theory beyond the labor and business historians I’ve read, but I had a pretty strong view about class and workers:  workers were always right, the political economy was reducible to a superstructure controlled by the bourgeoisie, etc.

    I’m now very hostile to what I understand Marxism to be, although I think as a perspective it still provides a  valuable reminder that we have to keep in mind who benefits from what reforms and who benefits from the way things are.  I’d like to think I’ve moved away from the reductionist thinking that I claim is characteristic of Marxism.

     Report

  12. Avatar Plinko says:

    I used to be a big time anti-sweatshop movement supporter in college. Not to the point that I sat out with signs and locked myself in the dean’s office or anything, but something I read a lot about and got very worked up over.

    Now I have a career in apparel outsourcing.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Heh. That’s interesting. And sort of hilarious. Has your view of sweatshops changed? If so, did it change prior to getting the job or after?Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        I went from “greedy capitalist exploitation of the world’s poor that must be rectified” to the Nick Kristof-view of “the only viable avenue of exit from poverty for many of the world’s poor” during my previous career as a business journo.

        Then I took the apparel job a couple of years later when I decided I liked being able to pay my bills.

         Report

  13. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    So many to choose from. The thing that jumps out the most is probably my choice of cars. I grew up in a Chevy family as was militant about it. Now I won’t drive anything that isn’t a Honda or a Toyota.

    Oh – and I would have voted for Clinton both times if I had been old enough… and then I registered as a Republican in 1999.Report

  14. Avatar Kimmi says:

    Lebanon Bologna. Quite an acquired taste.Report

  15. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I’m not sure about the militancy part, but I was pretty anti-free market in college (going to college at a conservative religious school, where everyone thinks the market is ordained in the New Testament by Jesus himself will, or at least ought to, incline you toward socialism).  Now I’m pretty pro-market (just in case anyone here didn’t happen to notice).

    Also, in ’92 I thought that the presidential election was the most critical one in decades, and that it was absolutely imperative that we get rid of G. H. W. Bush and elect Clinton.

    Funny, I’m not at all embarrassed about having been pro-socialist at one time, but  I am rather embarrassed by having thought that Clinton over Bush, Sr. was a crucially right outcome.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      You can absolutely beg this one off (to state the obvious), but, just curious, given that “The Year 2000” is now closer to ’92 than it is to today, how far had you come by November, 2000?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Michael,

        Regarding Clinton, by ’96 I was unwilling to vote for him again, although at that time I was still pretty anti G.H.W. Bush, iirc.

        I first began to rethink Bush, Sr. after having a Kuwaiti student in a course where I was the grad assistant, and hearing the Kuwaiti side of things.  Then later I did some study of the economy in ’92 and realized that we were reviving by the time Clinton won the election on that issue, and realized that Bush’s “let’s not over-react” approach actually was pretty much right (for that particular recession, at least), although politically suicidal. And by the early 2000s I had come to realize that we place far too much emphasis on domestic policy when electing presidents, when we should be focusing on foreign affairs, and I came to appreciate Bush more because foreign affairs was in fact his focus.

        I’m not making any advocacy claims about his FoPo positions here (and I think he could have prevented the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait), just stating that I appreciate a president who actually has some understanding of foreign policy.  And of course when I came to realize just what the neo-cons in his son’s administration were up to, I came to appreciate him even a little bit more.

        In November 2000 I was somewhat in the middle of developing that foreign policy perspective on the presidency in general and of his presidency in particular.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          Unlike Reagan, HW Bush is worth my vote. Given the same political climate, I’d vote for him. And I’m a liberal. Competency first.Report

          • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

            In retrospect, I severely under-appreciated Bush pere.  My nightmare is that, sometime during the first Palin administration, I realize the same thing about Bush fils.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Great, now I know what my unpleasant dreams will be tonight.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              I rather liked Bush the Wiser.   But he was up to his eyeballs in Iran Contra.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                @Blaise,

                Indeed, which is why I can’t give him an unqualified thumbs up.  While I like him better than any other recent president, and while I think Reagan was the most effective president of the past 40 years, I still think both should have been impeached.  The failure to do so helped set the stage for the series of extensions of executive power under Clinton, Bush, and Obama.Report

  16. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    I’ll just ignore everything before the end of high school (not that there was a tremendous difference — though I’ve got an Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtrack on iTunes that reminds me every so often that my taste was occasionally questionable), and go with the Save Darfur! movement.  Not the idea that Darfur needed help, or a desire for awareness of the situation, but the movement itself.  I was enamored with it for somewhere between 9-12 months, actually went to meetings  (I never go to meetings!  If I do, I pull up the play-by-play of baseball games, even if I’m supposed to be taking minutes), and wrote a very, erm, strident op-ed from my perch on the back page of a campus magazine that several friends still think represents my views on foreign policy options…  And then, just as suddenly, I was complaining to anyone within earshot about keg stands and Jell-O shots for Darfur.  The change might have been signaled by the realization that, outside a day of shouting at administrators, parties seemed to attract a rather significant amount of energy…  I believe I even slipped in a keg stands (beer pong?) for Darfur crack in the opening graf of the same column, but more as a shot at my editors — with the simple insertion of a beer pong joke, the feedback went from “This is not relevant to the audience,” to “Fantastic!”  In fact, I’m still complaining to anyone who will listen about Jell-O shots for Darfur!

    I also remember being a devoted baseball fan above all else in middle school and telling my mother and brother that they should just be happy that Kentucky basketball was breaking .500 every year, unlike the Cubs.  Boy, was that a dumb statement.Report

  17. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    For parents only:   remember before you had kids and some squalling kid useta make you mutter: “Will those idiot parents never deal with that kid?   Sweartagod I’m never having kids!”

    Then you have a kid or three and hear the same thing?   Within two seconds you can make an informed guess why that baby’s crying.

    So I was on a plane coming back from Atlanta.  There’s a crying baby right in back of me.   The parents just went on talking as if there wasn’t a problem.  After a few minutes of this I reach into my little pack and pull out my little beanie baby cat, sorta my good luck talisman, my daughter gave it to me.   I hand it back to the parents, “oh thanks”, the baby plays with it for one second then drops it onto the deck.   And starts crying again.

    A minute or two goes by, the baby’s now screaming louder than ever.     The parents go on babbling.   Finally I excuse myself, contort myself out into the aisle, go back to the parents.   “Would you mind doing me a favour?   Could you pick up that beanie baby off the deck?”   They do, and go back to their animated conversation, baby’s now screaming bloody murder.

    “Could I hold your child for a few moments?”   They hand the baby over, I pick up the beanie baby, put it in the child’s hands and the child stops crying immediately.   I walk the baby up and down the aisle, she’s lying on my shoulder.

    You could hear an audible sigh of relief from everyone on that plane, a few people actually clapped.   I stood there in the aisle for about fifteen minutes, the parents still nattering on.   Finally I put the baby back on the woman’s lap, now fast asleep.   I whisper, sotto voce, “You are just about the worst parent I’ve ever seen in my life, lady.   This is your first child, I’ll bet.   You learn to comfort this child when it’s crying or it will die.  Am I making myself clear enough here?”

    The woman looked at me like a deer in the headlights, stunned.

    And I sat back down in my seat.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Blaise, I know you have an extraordinary resume. This story does not commend you to a career in the State Department or other entities practicing diplomacy.

      Nevertheless, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t admit of having had fantasies of doing the exact same thing in similar circumstances.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        I don’t like anyone from State.  They shit in their own untidy little nest and are worse than useless.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          Caught osama bin laden? Jesus on a pogo stick, what more do they have to do??Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Uh, you can thank CIA for that, not State.   State’s solution to this mess has been:

            1.  Mess around in Iraq, taking sides with various religious types.

            2.  Zalmay Khalilzad cuts Karzai’s balls off.

            3.  Hire in all those Blackwater/Xe types to annoy CIA and USMC who are supposed to be doing embassy security, then have Raymond Davis, one of their contractor bozos shoot two Pakistani operators dead in the street.   Nice going.   Hillary Clinton’s been demanding her own Praetorian Guards under her personal command.

            4.  Try to stuff the farts back in the sack after the Wikileaks failure.

            The list is pretty much endless.Report

            • Avatar Kimmi says:

              Not the info I’ve got. And I think my sources have more people in high places than yours do. Bin Laden was Hillary’s pet project, complete with a sealed off buncha folks hunting for him. She realized (along with her top team) that they had moles everywhere — that was why he couldn’t be found. So, she made a small team and gave them carte blanche.

              3) definitely not defending.

              4) Was it the CIA what tried to assassinate the Wikileaks guy? I’d say that has the potential to create more cats than it solves…Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Heh. There are diplomats, and then there are Diplomats. It’s a standard negotiating tactic to try and keep someone longer than the time that they’ve agreed to stay, in order to try and extract more from them.

        A friend of mine had someone try and pull that on him — his response: “Time’s up, Gentlemen” And then the lights went out.

        That’s what I call making a point.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Nobody with any sense works for State.  It’s a sinecure for political types.  Embassies run by rich donors.   Read Emerald City if you want a picture of State Dept in action.  And it’s not just the Bushies to blame for that mess, it’s been a pervasive problem since before my time and it’s ongoing.   These people couldn’t find their asses in the dark with a map and a flashlight.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            Did I say my friend worked for STATE? Come to think of it, I didn’t mention who he was negotiating with either…

            State does what it needs to — important countries, delicate negotiations get someone who is good at what America needs them for. Ireland gets Rooney — because, dude, we just don’t care! Ireland will keep on being America’s little mama’s boy…

            China, India — there are places where delicate negotiations are really called for. The runts of the litter don’t go there.

            I blame GWB for scouring the CIA/FBI of honest Republicans.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              I didn’t say anything about your friend.  I said “Read Emerald City” to see what goes on inside embassies these days.

              Let’s open the curtains and allow the blessed sunshine of reason to stream in.   Each incarnation of the State Department is a great fetid turd which emerges from the bowels of the political patronage system after each presidential election.   It is a haven for the incompetent, linguistically-challenged graduates of various PoliSci programs.   The only Delicate Negotiations which go on with India are conducted in the conference rooms of Tata and Wipro and they are not conducted with the US State Department.   The State Department’s role is to jigger the H1-B paperwork to some corporation’s benefit.Report

            • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

              “When the gap gets too large between what State can handle effectively and what the CIA doesn’t wanna deal with, we step in. We’re The Division. We provide.”Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      That seems to be some popular notion of parenting these days.
      The idea is that if you pick up and hold an infant whenever they cry, you will undermine their sense of independence and self-determination when they mature.
      For my part, I see no shortage of independence and self-determination on the part of adults who were held as infants when they cried.
      FWIW.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        As a species, we have a comparatively long phase of infancy.   Other species have similarly long infancies, elephants, case in point, but none quite so helpless as ours.   Well, I suppose that’s a matter of semantics when it comes to helplessness, but I’ll stipulate to any exceptions.

        We don’t remember infancy.   But we emerge from it with a strong sense of identity, shaped by that period.   The Hausa, back in my day, didn’t lavish much love on an infant:  so many of them died.   And there was superstition about too much caring for children:  if the evil spirits saw you loved your child too much, they’d take it away.   There were ritual insults for small children to ward off the evil eye.   I won’t say the Hausa didn’t love their children, they did, in their own way.   Children were carried on their mothers’ backs.   My sister used to carry her dolls around on her back the same way.   Hard to explain how it affected those kids, my peers back in Dungas, but they just didn’t demonstrate much affection in ways we’d understand in the West.   For one thing, they didn’t have pets.   They’ll keep watchdogs but seem to hate them.   But come some point along the way, once they’ve demonstrated a propensity to live, the children are welcomed into the fold and are cared for quite well….

        Conversely, the Asian cultures I’ve seen lavish attention on small children.   But at some point along the way, they seem to withdraw it and start expecting a great deal of them.

        But both cultures understand the obligations created by that period of dependency in infancy.   You don’t create a dependent child by holding it and caring for it.   You’re doing what adults are supposed to do, as was done for you in your turn.   We grow in the image of those we love.   Deprived of love, we might grow, but stunted and somehow un-human.Report

  18. Avatar Jaybird says:

    When I was a kid, I was one of those kids in jeans handing out Jack Chick tracts at the beach. (There are those for whom that mindset is sustainable and those for whom it is not. It was not, for me.) From there, I jumped to Superatheist. Talking to strangers about “the good news” and so on. Getting into arguments with the kids at the mall asking people to come to their fun youthgroup. That sort of thing.

    Oh, to be young again.

    When I realized that most Christians are mostly harmless, I realized that I was, effectively, arguing with people over the right way to have a hobby. I’ve tried to lighten up since.

    (Here’s how bad it was: I didn’t have a sense of humor.)Report

    • Avatar North says:

      You with no sense of humor must have been a rather scary you to be around.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      When I was a kid, I was one of those kids in jeans handing out Jack Chick tracts at the beach.

      Man, I hated you guys even when I was a Christian.  (And now I know why you really live in Colorado–you’re actually an employee of Focus on the Family, aren’t you?!)Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          Were you? Really?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            I mean I wasn’t middle management or anything. I worked in janitorial/facilities as a summer job.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Ah, I understand.  How did they treat you?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I was at the tail end of my Christianity.

                They helped push me over.

                That said, many of them were just folks trying to get by the best way they knew how and, if anything, they found Focus on the Family to be disappointing insofar as it was not, in fact, like what they imagined working there would be like. (A co-worker was shocked, shocked to find that his lunch was stolen over the weekend, for example.)

                That said, Focus did do some stuff right. Remember the Bob Tilton scandal when it was found that they just removed the checks from envelopes and threw out the letters unread? Well, one of the defenses given was that they could pray for everyone who wrote (and sent a check!) and they didn’t have to read the letters because God knew the contents of the letters. All they had to do was pray.

                This is probably a theological discussion right there.

                Anyway, at Focus, they had (I hope I remember this right) three tiers of letters. Blue, Green, and Red. *ALL* letters got read. People (as in every single one) on the janitorial/facilities level opened each day with silently reading one or two of the blue letters, reading a couple of Bible verses to the group, talking about the letter they had read (something like “So-and-so wrote us to say that her mom got an illness and asking us to pray for her mom and for her, the Adventures in Odyssey radio program is her kids’ favorite part of the week”). We would then hold hands and go in a circle and pray for each person in the letter by name.

                There were a lot of things Focus did wrong.

                There were two or three things they did right.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Thanks, I appreciate hearing that info.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I should also point out that, now that I work in IT, I quite regularly work with people two (if not three) standard deviations to the right. People who read for pleasure, people who watch movies with subtitles, people who dream in code. Not to brag, but I’m one of the people who does stuff like “hang out at the LoOG for fun”.

                When I worked janitorial/facilities, I worked with different categories of people than the categories of people I work with now. Not saying they’re better, not saying they’re worse. They had different entertainments and hobbies.

                If there was tension between me and the other folks on my team at Focus, they are just as likely to be due to incompatibility between our preferred entertainments as due to our differences in religious assumptions.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                They didn’t like wrestling?

                 Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                How did they assign colors to the letters?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, yeah, I meant to talk about that. Blue letters were read by those of us on the bottom. Middle management types read the green letters. Red letters were read by the vice-presidents and perhaps even The Doc Himself.

                It was probably a situation where if the person donated $0-$X, the letter was blue, $X-$Y, the letter was green, and $Y and above the letter was red.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                It was probably a situation where if the person donated $0-$X, the letter was blue, $X-$Y, the letter was green, and $Y and above the letter was red.

                That seems in perfect keeping with the Gospels.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                See it this way:

                Do you think that the Good Lord is more likely to listen to a Vice-President with a diamond ring on his pinky or to a janitor?Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

                JB beat me to it.  I’m sure the facilities guys’ prayers were far more heartfelt.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                A, good point. I wonder if the vice president realizes that, though.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        The tragedy is that Chick had real artistic talent. A distinct, and engaging artistic style. Wasted, alas.Report

  19. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I used to feel very strongly that any copyright infringement of any kind–for any reason–was bad.  No matter what.

    I now feel that if a rightsholder is unwilling to create an arrangement by which I can give them money to get what I want, then infringement is acceptable.  (This isn’t “it costs too much”, this is “there is literally nothing on the market from the original provider that is what I want to purchase”.)Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Viva Galambosianism!

      Actually, no.  It would be a stifling intellectual feudalism after just a few generations.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      There’s an awful lot of stuff that I’ve written that I wouldn’t want available to the public.
      If it becomes available, then it has to be a product I would stand by.

      I burned the original manuscript of the first short story I’d ever published some twelve years later.
      I don’t care for it.
      I wish I could find every issue of that magazine and burn them.Report

    • Avatar Jeff Wong says:

      Heh, at first, I thought you were pretty unprincipled. But then again, I’ve done it too because my life is better listening to crappy Euro disco than whatever is poppy music in America.

      In general, I feel very strongly against piracy of software and movies, unless the content simply sucks. I have to pirate because paying for that crap would be a travesty.

      Also, if the IP is from another country, I don’t care about IP laws. But I will get a legitimate copy and avoid illegitimate copies if it’s worthy.

      But then again, if a content producer has no way to sell it to you in your country or if import is impractical, I’m sure they would prefer you pirate and help them make a market where you are.Report

    • Avatar Will H. says:

      And I should note that I paid almost $40 for a re-issue of a Dixie Dregs album from Japan that hadn’t been available for well over five years.
      Something like that, I wouldn’t have a problem with making it available for other people to download.Report

  20. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Pretentious philosophy geek answer:

    Back in my early years of college, I prided myself a stalwart champion of a monistic metaphysical realism.   Then I fell to the dark side and embraced postmodern pluralism, a worldview for which I’m still proudly passionate.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      What level are you in Dungeons & Discourse?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I totally hated Michel Foucault the first time I read him.  Then I realized that a judicious combination of Foucault, F. A. Hayek, and James C. Scott could explain all kinds of things.

      Also, I was a religious social conservative in high school.  But now I’m an atheist and a rational hedonist.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Which work, if it was a work of his, turned you around?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          “Governmentality” was the essay where it sort of clicked.  After that I went back and reread Discipline and Punish, Madness and Civilization, and a bunch of The Order of Things.  (A hard book, and not any easier in French.)  My first reading of The History of Sexuality came after the epiphany.

           Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I had a similar experience. I’d read Madness and Civilization, and didn’t really buy into it, but then I read The Order of Things (which, I agree, is very difficult, and took me quite some time — the only book I’ve read that I struggled with more is Difference and Repetition, and I wonder whether it’s easier in French), and something clicked in my head. So I went back to M&C, and then D&P, and then I took a class on Uncle Festus.

            I’m somewhat surprised that more libertarians aren’t into Foucault I suppose it’s partly a distaste for “postmodernism” (Objectivists certainly aren’t big fans), but since it’s all about the play of power, and since he seems pretty convinced that the state can’t help, he seems like someone that more libertarians would admire, even if they don’t agree with everything he says.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              In my case it was definitely the Objectivist allergy to postmodernism.   Aided by the fact that early in grad school, one reads far too many books to digest any of them all that well.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’ve never been an objectivist and I still hate PoMoism.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I usually wonder what makes people hate “postmodernism” (which is a vague term) so much, and then I remember the people who follow Latour and Harman, and I think, “Oh, that’s what!”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Postmodernism reminds me of one of those horrible divorces we’ve all seen in a few of our friends.   Y’know, one party comes visiting, all that nasty talk about the ex, trying to recruit you into taking their side.    You finally tell them to shut up, since you once saw them kissing each other on the very couch he’s sitting on now.

                Then, a bit chastised, the party draws a deep breath and stoutly declares it was all for the best, he’s going to start over afresh, that sort of bullshit.

                Postmodernism had a messy divorce with the Past.   It never came to terms with itself as a reaction to the past, as all the philosophers along the timeline had reacted to the past in their turn, never once seeing they were part of a longer continuum.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t see this at all. In fact, I think it’s the work that came out of the continent in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, that actually engaged the past, and fully recognized its relationship to it, whereas the Anglo-American stuff saw itself as largely ahistorical (philosophy either began with “Über Sinn und Bedeutung” or “On Denoting,” though there was a guy named David who wrote way, way back a long time ago before anyone really thought about things in a sophisticated way, and he had some interesting things to say about counterfactuals).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yeah, that’s true enough.  I’m only pointing out what I find distasteful in PoMo.

                In defense of PoMo, some of the PoMo take on linguistics is important stuff, especially how languages change.   I dealt with creoles and demotic languages, “imperfectly” spoken languages.    These rough and ready language variants deviate from the “received” language via common paths in creoles .

                Old School “40 Immortelles” linguists try to make all sorts of exceptions for creoles, using disparaging prose about them. The historians are terribly interested in them.   It’s very flattering to the linguists, to have the PoMo crowd look at their work in political and historical terms.   Something of a novelty for linguistics, to be taken seriously by other disciplines.   Granted, the PoMo crowd doesn’t really understand us, nor should they have to, if the linguists were doing their jobs effectively.   But even there, the PoMo folks are curiously sympathetic.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                @Chris,

                It does depend on what kind of post-modernism we’re talking about.  When someone tells me that much of my interpretation of the meaning of things is not necessarily objectively true, but shaped by culture and language, I fully agree.  When someone tells me there are no empirical truths I’m so eager to end the conversation that I take the cheap way out and just ask, “Is that true?”

                In short, I agree that our interpretation of facts is often–too often–colored by our values, but I disagree that there’s no meaningful fact/value distinction.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                James, there aren’t many philosophers who are typically labeled “postmodernist” who think that there are no empirical truths. Hell, Derrida is often treated as a realist.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Yes, but there are there followers, most of whom, I know, haven’t read them closely.  And there is still that fact/value business.

                But I also have a grievance against obscurantist writing–I think it’s a technique for obscuring non-clarity of thought.

                Other than warning us against being too simplistic and naive in our interpretations of empirical data, I just don’t see what intellectual value post-modernism has.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If memory serves, didn’t Derrida try to put distance between himself and Postmodernism?    F’rinstance, Derrida’s probing about in the process of science and its institutions, that all seemed fairly coherent.

                You know more about this than me, Chris.   Is there a practical difference between postmodernism and post-structuralism?   If so, how would anyone go about defining it.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Blaise,

                In philosophy, “postmodernism” is a loose term, but if we were going to pin down its beginning, it would probably be when certain structuralists (like Foucault and Barthes) left structuralism behind and became “post-structuralists.” Most of the philosophers people would consider postmodernists have also been labeled post-structuralists at some time: Barthes and Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Irigaray, for example. However, while I know some of them were OK with the “post-structuralist” label, the only one I can think of who openly accepted the “postmodernist” label is Lyotard, who saw it more as denoting a period and a condition (hence the title of his book) than a philosophical movement. So I imagine Derrida protested it, though I don’t recall anywhere that he did so specifically. Well, I do vaguely recall an American interview from the 90s, maybe, in which he scoffed at the term, but I don’t really remember where or when I saw that, or if I’m just making it up in my head. Foucault and Barthes saw themselves as old school continentalists in the tradition of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Husserl, and so on, and Deleuze did as well, though in a different way (Deleuze was much more interested in Husserlian phenomenology, Bergsonian vitalism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Leibnizian and Spinozian metaphysics than he was in Sausssure or Lacan). Baudrillard might have had an affinity for the concept of postmodernism (via Lyotard), but if he used it himself, he was probably just fucking with you. Irigaray I can’t stomach. It’s like someone tore up and then ate Lacan’s lectures and Heidegger’s later essays, and then vomited it onto a page. I couldn’t care less whether she considered herself a postmodernist, but I doubt she did.

                By the way, back when I hung out with a lot of philosophy types, I could usually tell whether I’d like someone by whether they liked Lacan. If someone said he or she liked Lacan, it was probably better that we just parted ways then and there.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Argh, I think my reply to you, Blaise, might have been defeated by a spam filter.

                Short answer, though: postmodernism, as we use it in reference in philosophy, pretty much begins when Barthes and Foucault, among others, transition from structuralism to post-structuralism. Also, most post-structuralists don’t see themselves as “postmodernists,” with the exception of Lyotard who sees postmodern as a moment and a condition, not a movement, and possibly Baudrillard, who if he used the concept, was probably fucking with us.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I can’t seem to rescue Chris’s comment (sorry Chris, I’ve not run into this before), but here is the content:

                Blaise,

                In philosophy, “postmodernism” is a loose term, but if we were going to pin down its beginning, it would probably be when certain structuralists (like Foucault and Barthes) left structuralism behind and became “post-structuralists.” Most of the philosophers people would consider postmodernists have also been labeled post-structuralists at some time: Barthes and Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Irigaray, for example. However, while I know some of them were OK with the “post-structuralist” label, the only one I can think of who openly accepted the “postmodernist” label is Lyotard, who saw it more as denoting a period and a condition (hence the title of his book) than a philosophical movement. So I imagine Derrida protested it, though I don’t recall anywhere that he did so specifically. Well, I do vaguely recall an American interview from the 90s, maybe, in which he scoffed at the term, but I don’t really remember where or when I saw that, or if I’m just making it up in my head. Foucault and Barthes saw themselves as old school continentalists in the tradition of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Husserl, and so on, and Deleuze did as well, though in a different way (Deleuze was much more interested in Husserlian phenomenology, Bergsonian vitalism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Leibnizian and Spinozian metaphysics than he was in Sausssure or Lacan). Baudrillard might have had an affinity for the concept of postmodernism (via Lyotard), but if he used it himself, he was probably just fucking with you. Irigaray I can’t stomach. It’s like someone tore up and then ate Lacan’s lectures and Heidegger’s later essays, and then vomited it onto a page. I couldn’t care less whether she considered herself a postmodernist, but I doubt she did.

                By the way, back when I hung out with a lot of philosophy types, I could usually tell whether I’d like someone by whether they liked Lacan. If someone said he or she liked Lacan, it was probably better that we just parted ways then and there.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Many thanks to both of you, Chris and Will.   I kinda came to the conclusion Postmodern was just an adjective, as it seems you do, as well.

                Though this excellent reply points to the rogues’ gallery of those times, it really doesn’t set up a practical distinction I could use.   I’ll try to put up my own, so you can beat the glibness out of it, with a few personal observations and snide remarks about the linguistics of the early 70’s as a lagniappe.

                The Structuralists were the bane of linguistics and in a larger frame, anthropology.   Everyone with a clue hated them.   These boneheads, chief among them Lévi-Strauss (that fraudulent old astrologer of anthropology), kept trying to squash culture into these irrelevant structures, none of which had a goddamn thing to do with actual anthropology or linguistics. The post-structuralists simply rejected all this Hegelian nonsense and started afresh.

                I always had a soft spot for Derrida, though some folks would rather be made to eat live snakes than plow through his books. See, for me, Derrida was clever enough to realize we were stuck with language, though it was a vastly imperfect thing. Me, I’m all about logic and inference, sure, we’re stuck with symbols. But nothing keeps us from inventing more — mwahahaha!

                As for Jacques Lacan, there’s a guy I worked with, a psychoanalyst who went into research on stress disorders, who upon hearing Lacan’s name will burst into the most terrible tirades about him.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                The anthropological structuralists were a little too rigid in their frameworks, but as it turns out there are functional regularities across human cultures, and even though the forms often look different, they’re still approaches to solving the same regular features of social life.   You might say that anyone with a clue hated them, but in recent years they’ve been rehabilitated a fair amount because their opponents also went too far, the moment they began saying that people from different cultures couldn’t actually communicate with each other because there were no common human concepts.

                I have to say, “there are no common human concepts” was a pretty weird thing to hear from someone who was married.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Don’t confuse structuralism and functionalism.

                Structuralism posits that there are regular mental processes that are not necessarily related to economic, reproductive, or other physical imperatives, and that these processes can be found across different cultures.  Usually they take the form of dualities — sacred/profane, insider/outsider, raw/cooked.

                Functionalism observes that certain things are necessary if a culture is going to feed and perpetuate itself.  These things are common across cultures, not the mental furniture.

                Poststructuralism isn’t a return to functionalism, but it doesn’t rule out a functionalist approach either.  Indeed,  the term “poststructural” itself is sort of incidental, because its method is eclectic and pragmatic.  If it had come after chiromancy, it would be called postchiromantic.  Its method might still be more or less the same.

                The poststructuralist method, to the extent that there is one, is to be intensely aware of the mental structures that we, the observers, bring to and try to impose upon the subjects we study in anthropology, sociology, history, literature, and the like.  These structures themselves are not innocent.  They are value-laden and can often be imperialist in nature, lording over the subject and obscuring rather than revealing.  It’s just that structuralism was the way this tended to happen when the poststructuralists arrived.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Good point, Jason.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

        Yeah, my thoughts about Foiucalt go back and forth …Report